Primary Instrument: Trumpet
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....
~ 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