Amir ElSaffar

(2009–Brick’s Picks, LA Weekly)

When we first heard Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers, we freaked. This was a couple years ago and tucked away in the culturally conservative Los Angeles jazz scene—which as a rule never mixes nothing with nothing if it ain’t been mixed before—well, the crazy mesh of jazz with Arabic music was a revelation. This wasn’t like playing Miles Davis music with horns and sitars, this was the maqam of Iraq—the land of the two rivers, where ElSaffir’s father was a musician—as learned by a jazz trumpeter, improvising the melody (ruhiyya) of each piece on his horn, accompanied by oud and dumbek, buzuq and frame drums, and the Persian born, Bay Area residing saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who can blow through quarter toned runs here and the blues there like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Which it is, really. Just listen to ElSaffir’s gorgeous tone, to the long drawn out blues lines, and his flights up and down and around those crazy near eastern scales. And how it all winds up in an absolutely swinging, Ornettish “Blues in Half E-Flat”. Rarely have two supposedly inimical civilizations melded together so beautifully. Bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Alex Cline fill out the four piece more than ably. They’re playing Monday, one night only, at the Jazz Bakery.

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