This is a past event.
When: Fri., March 22, 8 p.m. 2013
Iraqi-American and Oak Park native Amir ElSaffar has earned a reputation as an inventive and original jazz trumpeter by rigorously melding postbop and the urban Iraqi classical music called maqam with his Two Rivers Ensemble. He studied jazz at DePaul, but to learn the intricacies of maqam he had to travel to Baghdad—he arrived in 2002, about a year before the U.S. invaded. Maqam has traditionally had no written form, and is thus typically taught face-to-face; in the latter days of Saddam Hussein's reign it was in danger of dying out. After leaving Iraq, ElSaffar found perhaps his greatest mentor in maqam, singer Hamid Al-Saadi, in London—and because the invaluable lessons he received there impressed upon him the importance of introducing other countries to this aspect of Iraqi culture, he’s now bringing his teacher to the States for the first time. While in most of the Arabic musical world the word maqam describes a microtonal mode, in Iraq it also refers to a repertoire—roughly equivalent to the dastgah of Iran or the mugham of Azerbaijan—and Al-Saadi is arguably the only living performer fluent in the entire thing. His recordings are scarce in the U.S., but the one I have was enough to convince me of his dizzying intensity and focus: he adorns each elegant, subtle melody with piercing ululations and sculpts it with the precise pitch control necessary to navigate its microtonal intricacies. He’s supported here by a traditional lineup (known as a "tchalgi Baghdadi") featuring Baghdadi musicians Dakhil Ahmed on joza (spike fiddle) and Sabah Kathom on hand percussion plus ElSaffar on santur, a kind of hammer dulcimer (he also plays it in Two Rivers and in Safaafir, the maqam ensemble he leads with his sister Dena ElSaffar). —Peter Margasak

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