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When Iraqi heritage meets American jazz you get something “hypnotic and utterly unique.” (TimeOut Chicago) Hamid Al-Saadi is a master of the centuries-old tradition of Iraqi maqam, a system of melodic modes in traditional Arabic instrumental and vocal music. He is the only living performer who has mastered all of the compositions of the maqam repertoire. Due to its intricate details, variations, and highly demanding vocal techniques, very few performers master the entire repertoire.
Amir ElSaffar, an Iraqi-American trumpeter, santur player, vocalist, and composer, has distinguished himself with a mastery of disparate musical styles and a singular approach to combining aspects of Middle Eastern music with American jazz, extending the boundaries of each tradition. In 2002, he put his New York jazz career on hold to immerse himself in the music of his father’s ancestral past, the Iraqi maqam, and has made innovative strides in creating a language that reconciles and combines the aesthetics and techniques of jazz and Middle Eastern music. Two Rivers was commissioned by Vijay Iyer, Cecil Taylor, and Daniel Barenboim as a suite that invokes Iraqi musical traditions framed in a modern jazz setting. The resultant sound is new and fresh, differing considerably from other contemporary cross-cultural musical fusions.
This double-bill performance brings together the traditional and the ever-evolving. As Yo-Yo Ma says, “If we want to preserve a tradition, the best way to preserve it is to let it evolve.”