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East Meets East: Amir ElSaffar & Hafez Modirzadeh

Amir ElSaffar and Hafez Modirzadeh

It may sound like a cliché, but Amir ElSaffar and Hafez Modirzadeh truly were destined to make music together. Although they are years apart in age-tenor saxophonist Modirzadeh was born in North Carolina in 1962, trumpeter ElSaffar near Chicago in 1977-they share parallel cultural roots and artistic histories that were bound to cross paths sooner or later. On Radif Suite (Pi), their new collaboration that also features bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Alex Cline, they now have.

Both ElSaffar and Modirzadeh are steeped in the musical traditions of the lands in which their fathers were born: Iraq and Iran, respectively. Although both musicians grew up in the United States-and were born to mothers from New York-they have heavily invested in the study of Middle Eastern modalities and how they can be applied to jazz. When they finally met in late 2008, and subsequently began working together, a sense of inevitability was already in place. “It was more than just, ‘You play Persian music and I play Iraqi music,'” says ElSaffar, who now lives in Brooklyn. “It was about each of our dispositions as human beings, each of our desires to stretch beyond the norms and the conventions of tradition [and find] something new through this tradition.”

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