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El Saffar, Amir – “Alchemy” – [Pi Recordings]

Amir ElSaffar is a jazz trumpeter working with his quintet on this Pi Recordings album, “Alchemy”. Though ElSaffar is heavily influenced in Middle Eastern musical traditions – ElSaffar plays the santur, is a performer of the classical Iraqi maqam tradition, performs with his maqam Iraqi group, books weekly concerts at Alwan For the Arts, a Middle Eastern arts and culture center in New York City – his musical focus on this album is in the standard jazz vein. He uses microtonality and the maqam style and blends it with standard western notations to come up with his own harmonic structure. Explanations of the differences and blending of the styles were much too complicated for my limited music playing knowledge, so I relied on my ear and my gut. What I hear when listening is rich, beautiful and solid jazz musicianship. The interaction between ElSaffar’s trumpet with the other musicians (tenor saxophone, piano, bass and drums) is a lush interplay of sounds and color. Not one instrument dominates. They work together holding the tight rhythms in place. This is so smooth and clear and gorgeous. There are 10 tracks of which the first three are his Ishtarum Suite, and 4 to 10 are selections from the Alchemy Suite. The last three selections begin to hint at Middle Eastern influences making me wish I could hear the Suite in its entirety. This is a superb work that will please many.
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  • Reviewed by Naysayer on October 28, 2013 at 10:01 pm
  • Filed as CD,Jazz
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