Composer, trumpeter, santur player and vocalist, Amir ElSaffar, an expert in Jazz and Iraqi maqam, has forged his novel approach to combining musical languages through his six-piece ensemble Two Rivers. Over the past eight years, the group has released three CD’s on Pi Recordings. Crisis, the most recent, was a Newport Jazz Festival commission. Jazz critic of the The Chicago Tribune, Howard Reich, declared Crisis “one of the most beautiful and evocative jazz recordings of the year.” A reviewer for The Wire, stated that “ElSaffar is uniquely poised to reconcile jazz and Arabic music without doing either harm…the result of engagement across the board, presented with clarity and eloquence.”
Rivers of Sound: Not Two is a continuation of the Two Rivers concept, but projected onto a wider canvas unprecedented in scope and imagination. Microtonal maqam melodies traverse a richly-textured bed of sound created by oud, buzuk, and santur, in combination with cello, violin, saxophones, English horn and trumpet. Also at play are multilayered, rhythmic patterns and harmonies performed by re-tuned vibraphone, piano and guitar. The drum set, mridangam, dumbek, frame drums and double-bass provide the rhythmic foundation and subdivisions of the multiple currents. Resonance across rhythmic, tonal, and timbral spectra, and across musical traditions, is the guiding principle.
ElSaffar’s music is at once unique and engaging, full of heart and passion. Challenging notions of composition vs. improvisation, tradition vs. modernity, microtonality/modality vs. harmony, his compositions bring to light the universality of music across cultures. Given the catastrophes befalling the people of the Middle Eastern and Arab lands, his music is both timely and urgent as he is preserving elements of these cultures by bringing them into context with contemporary musical forms.