Musical Performance: Amir ElSaffar and Hafez Modirzadeh - Expansions on the Maqam and Dastgah

Fri, June 19, 2009 9:00 pm at Alwan for the Arts

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Amir ElSaffar - trumpet
Hafez Modirzadeh - saxophone


Mark Dresser - double bass
Alex Cline - drums

The group will be performing new and original material that weaves through the tonal spectra of Iraqi maqam, Persian dastgah, and contemporary jazz, exploring concepts of sound generated by the timeless modes of expression that seek to expand the human spirit.

Tickets: $15.00, available at the door and online here:


A Destined Collaboration: Amir ElSaffar and Hafez Modirzadeh, each of mixed heritage (Iraqi American and Iranian American, respectively) whose musical careers are dedicated to expressing their ancestral traditions within a highly personalized and creative jazz language, have now teamed together to articulate an unprecedented and forward-looking form of music. ElSaffar, originally from Chicago, has spent years traveling abroad seeking out masters who could impart to him the Iraqi maqam tradition, and composed the highly acclaimed Two Rivers Suite (released in 2007 on Pi Recordings), his first major work joining maqam with contemporary improvised music. Hafez, based in the San Francisco Bay area and fifteen years Amir’s senior, had spent years under the guidance of Iranian master musician, Mahmoud Zoufounoun, learning the Iranian counterpart to maqam, known as dastgah. By 1992, Hafez had developed his own "chromodal" approach to intercultural musical practice, which allows for the co-existence of multiple traditions within one cohesive system, and has since composed a large body of uncompromisingly original work that adapts Persian tuning into a variety of musical contexts.

ElSaffar and Modirzadeh were aware of each other for a number of years, thanks to mutual friends such as Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa, who repeatedly talked to each about the other. Amir was first exposed to Hafez's music when Vijay played him “In Chromodal Discourse” (first released in 1993 on Asian improv Records) in 2001, and knew immediately that Hafez was someone he would like to make music with. Finally, in late 2008, Fred Ho brought Hafez and Amir together for his own big band recording session in New York, and the chemistry was immediate. Fortunately, Amir had a performance the following evening at the Jazz Gallery, and Hafez was able to join his quartet for the engagement. This left ElSaffar with the determination to travel to the West Coast a few months later to develop concepts with Modirzadeh, where intense practice together over a 10-day period led to a collaboration on four performances, the most notable of which was at the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles. There, joined by world-renowned bassist Mark Dresser and master drummer, Alex Cline, all four musicians were left enthused and anxious for another chance to play together. The opportunity has come, sooner than expected, as Dresser and Cline will be joining ElSaffar and Modirzadeh for a performance here at Alwan.


Iraqi American trumpeter AMIR ELSAFFAR is an accomplished jazz and classical trumpeter who has collaborated with a variety of artists, including Cecil Taylor, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Vijay Iyer, and Daniel Barenboim. In 2002, ElSaffar put his New York career on hold to immerse himself in the music of his father 's homeland, the Iraqi maqam. He went on a tremendous quest, traveling to Iraq and throughout the Middle East and Europe in urgent pursuit of masters who could impart to him this centuries-old oral tradition. He quickly became versed in maqam, learning to play the santour (Iraqi hammered dulcimer) and to sing, and created new techniques for the trumpet that enable Arabic microtones and ornaments to be played in the rarest of fashion on this instrument. His 2007 release, Two Rivers (Pi Recordings), is a groundbreaking, emotionally charged work that invokes ancient Iraqi musical traditions and frames them in a modern jazz setting. Described by BBC World as "harrowing to absorb; full of as much beauty as pain," and by Downbeat as "hauntingly beautiful," the CD appeared on several top 10 lists of 2007, and was the Village Voice's runner-up debut jazz release of that year.

For over two decades, from Beijing to Tehran, London to Granada, saxophonist/theorist HAFEZ MODIRZADEH has performed and published on his pioneering “chromodal” concept, a cross-cultural musical approach developed from his own American jazz and Iranian dastgah heritages and featured on such critically acclaimed releases as The Peoples Blues (1996, on XDOT25), Dandelion (2003), and Bemsha Alegria (2007, on Disques Chromodal). His paths have crossed with numerous masters from world traditions, including Ornette Coleman, Mahmoud Zoufonoun, members of the original AACM, as well as his own generation of Asian American musical artists. Modirzadeh is a Senior Fulbright Scholar, NEA Jazz Fellow, and Professor of World Cultures in Music at San Francisco State University.

Described by the New York Times as "a bassist who is one of the great instrumental forces in recent American jazz outside of the mainstream," MARK DRESSER has been composing and performing solo contra bass and ensemble music professionally since 1972, throughout North America, Europe and the Far East. He has performed and recorded over one hundred CDs with some of the strongest personalities in contemporary music and jazz including Tim Berne, Jane Ira Bloom, Bobby Bradford, Dave Douglas, Fred Frith, Diamanda Galas, Vinny Golia, Oliver Lake, George Lewis, Misha Mengelberg, Andrew Cyrille, RayAnderson, James Newton, Evan Parker, Henry Threadgill, and John Zorn. He is currently Professor of Music at UCSD.

From Los Angeles, ALEX CLINE began playing drums at age eleven, first in rock bands with his twin brother, guitarist Nels Cline. Alex's interest in a larger sonic vocabulary caused him to gather a large family of percussion instruments that he has been heard playing mainly in the "jazz" and "new music" genres. He has performed and/or recorded with numerous musical artists including Vinny Golia, Arthur Blythe, Tim Berne, Bobby Bradford, Henry Grimes, Charlie Haden, Yusef Lateef, Charles Lloyd, Tom McNelley, Frank Morgan,Wadada Leo Smith, Dana Reason, Nathan Hubbard, Dave Fiuczynski, Dennis Gonzales, and Karl Berger. His musical pursuits have taken him all over the US, Europe, and Canada, including appearances at many major jazz festivals.

Last updated: 2009-06-14 19:36:33

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