AMIR EL SAFFAR, IRAQI-AMERICAN TRUMPETER, SANTUR PLAYER, VOCALIST, AND COMPOSER
Iraqi-American trumpeter, santur player, vocalist, and composer Amir ElSaffar has distinguished himself with a mastery of diverse musical traditions and a singular approach to combining Middle Eastern musical languages with jazz and other styles of contemporary music. A recipient of the prestigious Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, ElSaffar is an expert trumpeter with a classical background, conversant not only in contemporary jazz, but has created techniques to play microtones and ornaments idiomatic to Arabic music that are not typically heard on the trumpet. Additionally, he is a purveyor of the centuries old, now endangered, Iraqi maqam tradition, which he performs actively as a vocalist and santur player. As a composer, ElSaffar has used the microtones found in maqam music to create an innovative approach to harmony and melody, establishing himself as an important voice in an age of cross-cultural music making.
"an exquisite alchemist"-- Howard Mandel, Downbeat Magazine
“ElSaffar’s melismatic trumpet lines conveyed tremendous lyric beauty, his phrases bending and twisting in ways that Western ears are not accustomed to hearing… among the most promising figures in jazz today.” – Howard Reich, The Chicago Tribune
“a virtuoso on the horn, but also an imaginative bandleader, expanding the vocabulary of the trumpet and at the same time the modern jazz ensemble.” – David Adler, All About Jazz
The Two Rivers Ensemble
Two Rivers is a sextet of jazz and Middle Eastern musicians founded by ElSaffar in 2006 and features drummer Nasheet Waits, bassist Carlo DeRosa, Tareq Abboushi on buzuq (long-necked lute), Zafer Tawil on oud and percussion, and tenor saxophone virtuoso Ole Mathisen. The ensemble has made innovative strides in in using the maqam modal system to transform the jazz idiom and is deeply rooted in musical forms of Iraq and nearby regions with a resultant sound that is distinct from other contemporary cross-cultural musical fusions. The group has released two critically-acclaimed albums on Pi Recordings: Inana (2011) and Two Rivers (2007). Two Rivers released their CD entitled Crisis in July 2015. It represent a work commissioned in 2013 by the Newport Jazz Festival (see the premiere performance here). The work was composed after ElSaffar spent a year living in Egypt and Lebanon, and reflects ElSaffar's contemplation of a region consumed in violence turmoil.
Praise for Inana (Pi Recordings, 2011):
“thoroughly engaging, sensual, and enlightening…★★★★½” – Thom Jurek, Allmusic.com
“It can be solemn or frenetic, but these elegantly balanced tunes announce new possibilities in global jazz.” – Nate Cavalieri, Rhapsody.com
“ElSaffar has with this recording established himself as a compositional force to be reckoned with.” – Thomas Stanley, Point of Departure
“The band navigates ElSaffar’s still-fresh fusion of jazz and maqam with such masterful technical power and vivid lyrical imagination that you almost immediately forget to be engrossed by the novelty of the sound.” – Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader
Praise for Two Rivers (Pi Recordings, 2007):
“gorgeous, invigorating, and accessible” – Patrick Jarenwattananon, NPR Music
“harrowing to absorb; full of as much beauty as pain” – Matt Wells, BBC World Service
“Two Rivers makes a strong case for improvised cross-cultural exchange.” – Nate Chinen, The New York Times