Amir ElSaffar and the Two Rivers Ensemble

A fusion of jazz and music of the Middle East

Composer, trumpeter, santur player and vocalist Amir ElSaffar—described as “uniquely poised to reconcile jazz and Arabic music,” (The Wire) and “one of the most promising figures in jazz today” (Chicago Tribune)—is an important voice in an age of cross-cultural music. A recipient of the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award and a 2018 U.S. Artist Fellow, ElSaffar is an expert trumpeter with a classical background who is also conversant in contemporary jazz. He has created techniques to play microtones and ornaments idiomatic to Arabic music that are not typically heard on the trumpet.

ElSaffar is the bandleader of the Two Rivers Ensemble, a sextet that explores the juncture between jazz and music of the Middle East. Deeply rooted in the musical forms of Iraq and nearby regions, the group’s music still speaks the language of swing, improvisation and group interaction, and the resulting sound is distinct from other contemporary cross-cultural musical fusions. After 14 years of extensive performing and touring and the release of three critically acclaimed albums—Crisis (2015), Inana (2011) and Two Rivers (2007)—the ensemble has developed an instinctive ease with ElSaffar’s highly complex music, enabling the band to play with a creativity that transcends pure technical challenge in a style that is rooted in tradition, while creating an entirely new aesthetic.

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