Thursday, June 15, 2017

Amir ElSaffar Rivers of Sound - Not Two (New Amsterdam Records, 2017)

Iraqi-American trumpeter, santur player, vocalist, and composer Amir ElSaffar's Rivers of Sound Orchestra is a seventeen member improvising big band that weds music of the Middle East to jazz with excellent results. This generous double album shows the band tearing down cultural divides and creating a unique hybrid, beginning with "Iftitah" which has a slow droning opening, creating music that is patient and low in tone. Stringed instruments and piano enter and develop an exotic sound. Horns build in like a heraldic announcement, with the brass becoming loud and powerful and accompanied by a piano flourish. The music is episodic in nature with the sound flowing naturally, leading to brash waves of horns accompanied by insistent bass and percussion. Guitar and percussion usher in "Penny Explosion" which has a broad array of sounds that create an unusual and beguiling structure with music which builds and swirls hypnotically. The music is spacious and breathes easily, sounding light and mobile with a wide vocabulary of sound. Horns gradually build in, rising gracefully and creating a large group sound that is very interesting and multi-faceted. ElSaffar's trumpet breaks out for a short solo before the music drops out to bass and hand percussion. They are joined by some quiet and nuanced saxophone and the volume rises to a percussion feature that is fast and fluid. There is a slow opening for percussion and horns to open "Ya Ibni, Ya Ibni (My son, my son)" with Eastern tinged horn solos showcasing the richness of their instruments, with subtle vibes shading the music. The music gradually evolves and other instruments fill in, broadening the sound. There is a patient and rich feature for piano, which develops a lush rhythm with bass and percussion. "Layl (Night)" has dramatically played strings, both plucked and bowed, swooping and swelling dramatically leading to a section of powerful vocals and vocalizations, with the music crashing like the sea with a single saxophone soloing gently against the heavy music in a beautifully subtle manner. A complex and appealing rhythm sets the mood for "Hijaz 21/8" with fine interplay among the musicians especially subtle guitar and percussion. Horns swirl and whirl dizzily, making for fine company with the strings and discreet horns that join the percolating rhythm. Trumpet arcs over deep seated accompaniment of shimmering vibes and percussion creating an alluring sound. The longest performance on the album is "Shards of Memory/B Half Flat Fantasy" which begins with light horns interacting with strings and percussion. Saxophones and trumpet are playing in space, in and out of phase, shifting over the vibes and rhythm. The music becomes faster and more strident, with the horns moving in tandem and a shifting rhythmic center creating excitement as instruments collide, merge and emerge. There is great collective playing as suite like interconnected sections of music show different aspects of the ensemble. Vocals are framed by strings and percussion, further communicating the drama of the music, which is restlessly creative. The band builds a powerful edifice, with saxophones blasting forth powerful sound concluding with a light fanfare. The album finishes with "Bayat Declamation" a travelogue of strings and percussion with a sound that is mobile and variable. Strong horns frame this cinematic music with a flavorful full band featuring expressive hand percussion strings and glistening vibes. This was a very successful album, and it is highly recommended to fans of jazz and world music. The performances are strong and varied and this marks a triumph for Amie ElSaffar and his exciting blend of music. Not Two - amazon.com

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