Amir ElSaffar And Two Rivers On JazzSet Marvel at the musical flow — even in non-Western modes and odd, long meters at breakneck speeds — in this set, recorded live at the Newport Jazz Festival.

JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater

Amir ElSaffar And Two Rivers On JazzSetWBGO

Amir ElSaffar And Two Rivers On JazzSet

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/245230223/245154025" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

"I feel as though there's almost two streams going through my veins, two bloodstreams," says trumpeter and composer Amir ElSaffar, leader of Two Rivers. "A lot of my life has been about reconciling the two."

Born in 1977 to an Iraqi father and an American mother, ElSaffar was an eighth-grader at a Lutheran school outside Chicago when the Gulf War broke out in 1990. Soon after, his family visited his father's relatives in Iraq for the first time. All Iraqis' circumstances deteriorated through the 1990s, a decade during which young ElSaffar was mastering the trumpet.

On the night of Sept. 10, 2001, ElSaffar — now an award winner in classical and jazz competitions — performed with Arabic musicians for the first time, at a restaurant in New York.

"I had this elated feeling, because I had never performed this music before," he tells JazzSet.

Almost overnight, determination replaced elation. ElSaffar felt a strong drive to visit his relatives before such a trip became impossible. He stayed almost a year in Iraq to study traditional music, including the maqam tradition (sometimes likened in form to the raga tradition in Indian music).

Since then, ElSaffar has made pilgrimages to Egypt and Lebanon, and has played with Syrians who drove for hours to cross the border and play music with him. He composes with jazz and Arabic materials, mixes instruments from both sides of the world, and calls his ensemble Two Rivers in honor of the Tigris and Euphrates. It's hard not to marvel at the musical flow that Two Rivers achieves, even in non-Western modes and odd, long meters at breakneck speeds. At that point, it's time to stop counting along and join the flow.

That's how the Newport Jazz Festival audience handles it. After only the first movement, they leap to a standing ovation and stay engaged through the entire journey.

Movements

  • "The Great Dictator"
  • "The Shaab (The People)"
  • "Poem"
  • "Flyover Iraq"
  • "Whirlwind"

Personnel

  • Amir ElSaffar, trumpet and santur
  • Ole Mathisen, tenor sax
  • Zafer Tawil, oud/violin/dumbek
  • Tareq Abboushi, buzuq/percussion
  • Carlo DeRosa, bass
  • Nasheet Waits, drums

Credits

This work (not yet named) was commissioned by the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival with generous funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, which also funds JazzSet. Commissioning music is part of the mission of the Newport Festivals Foundation to expand the repertoire, and to grow and develop with the times.

Recording by David Tallacksen, WBGO. Surround Sound mix by Duke Markos. Thanks to the Newport Jazz Festival and NPR Music.

[+] read more[-] less

More From Jazz

Bassist Christian McBride (left) and Blues artist Joey DeFrancesco (right). Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

A Reunion Of Brotherly Love: Joey DeFrancesco Traces His Roots

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

Christian McBride interviews one of his oldest friends, organist Joey DeFrancesco, in their hometown of Philadelphia.

A Reunion Of Brotherly Love: Joey DeFrancesco Traces His Roots

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/687886485/688249013" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Grammy-winning trumpeter Roy Hargrove passed away at age 49. Courtesy of The Roy Hargrove Estate hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of The Roy Hargrove Estate

'Jazz Night In America' Remembers Artists We Lost In 2018

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

Friends of the show offer memories and music of pianist Cecil Taylor, Village Vanguard owner Lorraine Gordon, South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela and trumpeter Roy Hargrove.

'Jazz Night In America' Remembers Artists We Lost In 2018

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/678136954/678160463" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra perform new arrangements of holiday classics in New York City. Lawrence Sumulong/Jazz at Lincoln Center hide caption

toggle caption Lawrence Sumulong/Jazz at Lincoln Center

The Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra Performs Big Band Holiday Classics

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

New arrangements, old Yuletide classics. Watch the annual Jazz at Lincoln Center Big Band Holidays concert live on Wed., December 19th at 7:30 p.m. ET.

This episode of Jazz Night in America features tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd. Dorothy Darr/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Dorothy Darr/Courtesy of the artist

At 80, Saxophonist Charles Lloyd Finds Enlightenment in the Groove

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

In this episode of Jazz Night in America, we get a taste of Lloyd's collaboration with Lucinda Williams, along with choice moments from his recent appearances at Lincoln Center.

At 80, Saxophonist Charles Lloyd Finds Enlightenment in the Groove

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/673799006/674218582" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Joey Alexander performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Nov. 6, 2018 (Cameron Pollack/NPR). Cameron Pollack/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Cameron Pollack/NPR

Joey Alexander

No one in the NPR offices could have imagined how remarkable this 15-year old pianist would be at the Tiny Desk.

The Nicholas Payton Trio performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Oct. 10, 2018. (Cameron Pollack/NPR) Cameron Pollack/NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Cameron Pollack/NPR/NPR

Nicholas Payton Trio

After back-to-back performances in South Africa, Argentina, Chile and New York, Payton hit the Tiny Desk, where he dazzled the audience, simultaneously playing his trumpet and a Fender Rhodes.

Nico van der Stam/Octave Music

Into the Vault: Erroll Garner Uncovered

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

Take an essential and unprecedented glimpse into the music and life of the groundbreaking pianist-composer.

Into the Vault: Erroll Garner Uncovered

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/656189856/656604367" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Back To Top