Rivers of Sound is a large ensemble of instrumentalists from
Western and Middle Eastern traditions, exploring the confluences of a musical
language that transcends notions of tradition and style. In performing Not Two,
an original composition by Amir ElSaffar, each musician interacts with the
group through both improvised and composed material to create a novel composite
Composer, trumpeter, santur player and vocalist, Amir ElSaffar, an expert in
Jazz and Iraqi maqam, has forged his novel approach to combining musical
languages through his six-piece ensemble Two Rivers. Over the past eight years,
the group has released three CD’s on Pi Recordings. Crisis, the most recent,
was a Newport Jazz Festival commission. Jazz critic of the The Chicago Tribune,
Howard Reich, declared Crisis “one of the most beautiful and evocative jazz
recordings of the year.” A reviewer for The Wire, stated that “ElSaffar is
uniquely poised to reconcile jazz and Arabic music without doing either
harm…the result of engagement across the board, presented with clarity and
Rivers of Sound: Not Two is a continuation of the Two Rivers concept,
but projected onto a wider canvas unprecedented in scope and imagination.
Microtonal maqam melodies traverse a richly-textured bed of sound created by
oud, buzuk, and santur, in combination with cello, violin, saxophones, English
horn and trumpet. Also at play are multilayered, rhythmic patterns and
harmonies performed by re-tuned vibraphone, piano and guitar. The drum set,
mridangam, dumbek, frame drums and double-bass provide the rhythmic foundation
and subdivisions of the multiple currents. Resonance across rhythmic, tonal,
and timbral spectra, and across musical traditions, is the guiding principle.
ElSaffar’s music is at once unique and engaging, full of heart and passion.
Challenging notions of composition vs. improvisation, tradition vs. modernity,
microtonality/modality vs. harmony, his compositions bring to light the
universality of music across cultures. Given the catastrophes befalling the
people of the Middle Eastern and Arab lands, his music is both timely and
urgent as he is preserving elements of these cultures by bringing them into
context with contemporary musical forms.
ElSaffar received funding from the MAP Fund and Arab Fund for Arts and Culture,
to create Rivers of Sound. The 17 members came to New York City from as far
away as Qatar, Palestine, and Brussels in April for three days of rehearsal,
the premiere of Not Two at the Lincoln Center, and an epic 14-hour day
at Avatar Studios, where they recorded the 80-minute suite directly to tape.
ElSaffar believes that the nature of this sound cannot be captured digitally
and has committed to all analog, with a double LP to be released on May 28th,