Sunday, August 02, 2015

Amir ElSaffar - Crisis - (Pi-Recordings, 2015)

Trumpeter and vocalist Amir ElSaffar’s album Crisis by his Two Rivers Ensemble chronicles his continuing exploration of the juncture between jazz and music of the Middle East. The ensemble consists of Nasheet Waits on drums, Carlo DeRosa on bass, Tareq Abboushi on buzuq (a long-necked lute), Zafer Tawil on oud and percussion and Ole Mathisen on saxophone. “Introduction - From the Ashes” leads off the album with heavy drums as the group comes blasting out sounding vital and immediate with the strings and brash horns accompanied by emotional singing. Strings and percussion usher in “The Great Dictator” allowing an exotic underpinning for the horns to rise and punch through in a fast and intricate fashion. Strings and hand percussion swirl joyfully with the horns that roar back in and lead the band to hard charging conclusion. There is a thick bass and drum opening on “El-Sha'ab (The People)” allowing the horns to build upon the nimble music develop below them which even folds in notions of funk, a ray of sunshine amidst a very serious set of music. “Flyover Iraq” is one of the highlights of the album with the increasingly thickening sound of bass, strings and percussion. The horns develop a riffing sound and build with ElSaffar’s rippling and punchy trumpet leading the way, over a beautiful and complex rhythm. On “Tipping Point” the subtle strings and drums allow the horns space to layer upon one another until they build to a powerful cry of pain and frustration. The music develops a freer more open section allowing for alternating fast/slow dynamics to whip the group through to a powerful conclusion. The final tracks, “Aneen (Weeping) Continued” and “Love Poem (Complete)” are ballads, which are alternately lush and mournful, leaving the album with a sense of unresolved sadness, much like the region of the world that inspired it. This album is his reflection ElSaffar’s view of the culture he grew up with, one is that is being irrevocably changed and in a struggle for survival. It is a powerful album that demands to be heard, not only as an excellent jazz LP, but also as a clarion call to artists of all disciplines to band together to make substantive changes to the injustices they see around them. Crisis -

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