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December 2007

Amir Elsaffar
Two Rivers
Pi Recordings

Iraqi-American trumpeter Amir ElSaffar blends the Iraqi maqam (“the music of his father’s ancestral past,” or so it says in the press notes) with jazz, creating some fresh, deep, intensely performed music. ElSaffar’s band (Rudresh Mahanthappa, alto sax; Nasheet Waits, drums; Carlo DeRosa, bass; Tareq Abboushi, buzuq and percussion; Zaafer Tawil, oud, violin, dumbek) has nary a weak link. All have chops and big ears to spare. ElSaffar has obviously taken the time to learn and internalize maqam, taken the areas (heterophony, drones, repetitive rhythmic vamps) in which it intersects with freer forms of jazz, and created an organic amalgam. Mahanthappa and ElSaffar play down the elaborate, microtonally inflected heads with a loose precision, Abboushi and Tawil provide ever-evolving melodic support, and DeRosa and Waits infuse a powerful, earthy drive. There’s not the faintest hint of dabbling here; ElSaffar knows from whence he came, in every respect.

Originally published in December 2007
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