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Jazz With an International Flavor: Amir ElSaffar Two Rivers Ensemble, January 20 at Dana Library

January 19, 2016
Amir ElSaffar

Amir ElSaffar has distinguished himself with a singular approach to combining Middle Eastern musical languages with jazz and other styles of contemporary music.

The Institute of Jazz Studies welcomes the Amir ElSaffar Two Rivers Ensemble on Wednesday, January 20 from 2:30-4:15 p.m. in the Dana Room on the fourth floor of the John Cotton Dana Library, Rutgers University–Newark. The first concert in the Institute’s 2016 concert season entitled Jazz With an International Flavor, this event is free and open to the public.

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 2013 Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, ElSaffar has been described as “uniquely poised to reconcile jazz and Arabic music without doing either harm” by The Wire and as “one of the most promising figures in jazz today” by the Chicago Tribune.

ElSaffar is an expert trumpeter with a classical background who is conversant in the language of contemporary jazz and has created techniques to play microtones and ornaments idiomatic to Arabic music that are not typically heard on the trumpet. 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 Iraqi magam music to create an innovative approach to harmony and melody. Described by All About Jazz as “an imaginative bandleader, expanding the vocabulary of the trumpet and at the same time the modern jazz ensemble,” ElSaffar is an important voice in an age of cross-cultural music making.

ElSaffar currently leads four critically-acclaimed ensembles: Two Rivers, which combines the musical languages and instrumentation of Iraqi maqam and contemporary jazz; the Amir ElSaffar Quintet, performing ElSaffar’s microtonal compositions with standard jazz instrumentation; Safaafir, the only ensemble in the US performing and preserving the Iraqi maqam in its traditional format; and The Alwan Ensemble, the resident ensemble of Alwan for the Arts, specializing in classical music from Egypt, the Levant, and Iraq.