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Amir ElSaffar

Primary Instrument: Trumpet

Amir ElSaffar

Amir ElSaffar, trumpeter, composer, singer, and santoor player, is garnering an international reputation for his work, both in the traditional Iraqi Maqam and in jazz music.

Described as “one of the important carriers of the Iraqi Maqam tradition” by Maqam master, Hamid al-Saadi, Amir currently leads the only ensemble in the US performing Iraqi Maqam, Safaafir. Amir sings and plays santoor, and is accompanied by traditional instruments, such as the joze (spike fiddle) and tabla. This ensemble has researched ancient practices that have been lost in recent generations, and is now reviving these sounds, continuing the legacy of the great masters of this tradition. Safaafir has appeared throughout the US, performing both for Iraqis as well as general audiences. Safaafir recently released a CD, entitled “Maqams of Baghdad.”...
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”Amir ElSaffar, the Iraqi-American trumpeter...is a virtuoso on the horn, but also an imaginative bandleader, expanding the vocabulary of the trumpet and at the same time the modern jazz ensemble. Accomplished in the jazz and Western classical fields, ElSaffar has also immersed himself in the Iraqi maqam. Much as Vijay Iyer has done with Carnatic music, ElSaffar is bringing the maqam - the urban classical music of Iraq - into contact with jazz. At Makor (Oct. 5th), during the second month of FONT, ElSaffar played an extended work called “Two Rivers”, signifying the Tigris and Euphrates but also the commingling of musical worlds. He began the set on santoor, a type of hammered dulcimer. For a time the group seemed physically split between East and West - with ElSaffar, violinist/oudist/percussionist Zaafer Tawil and buzuq player/pianist Tareq Abboushi on the left and altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa, bassist Carlo DeRosa and drummer Nasheet Waits on the right. Gradually the boundaries blurred; ElSaffar migrated to a standard trumpet and a cornet with a slide, to enable microtones. The music ranged from mournful rubato song to raging New York-style improvisation. Waits took to the mix of rhythms with relish and skill. When ElSaffar returned to santoor, he began to vocalize in authentic maqam style, to haunting effect.”

~ David R. Adler

”...when he picked up the trumpet (alternately, cornet) he was playing in the quarter-tone scales of traditional maqam. But that seemed to be a small point--it wasn't for effect or show, it was simply that he'd adapted his instrument to the needs of the music. Actually, the most noticeable aspect to his playing is his imperturbable sense of focus. There was a moment in one piece, a soft slow piece, when all the others fell away and left Amir by himself. He played with a quiet, airy intensity that not only quieted the whole band, but paralyzed the entire room. After about 30 seconds by himself he simply stopped. There was a collective gasp in the room that stunned. Beautiful. Also notable was how well Amir and Rudresh Mahantappa blended, both in tone and in pitch. Rudresh's solos took fire every time. Nasheet Waits was also outstanding, particularly on a tricky piece in 17 that had all the musos counting on their fingers.”

~ Dave Douglas

  • Alchemy

    Pi Recordings
    2014
  • Inana

    Pi Recordings
    2011
  • Radif Suite

    Pi Recordings
    2010
  • Two Rivers

    Pi Recordings
    2008
  • Two Rivers

    Pi Recordings
    2007

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