Amir ElSaffar & Rivers of Sound - The Other Shore - The Quietus

Trumpeter Amir ElSaffar charted new territory in 2007 with his striking debut album Two Rivers, a rigorous and deeply convincing hybrid of Iraqi maqam and post-bop. In all of his subsequent projects he’s pursued different ways of combining disparate traditions, locating threads that belie a seeming incongruity. Rivers Of Sound is an orchestra he put together to achieve those goals, but he makes an important point in his liner note essay: “When we begin with an inherent sense of unity and interconnectedness, and musicians as individuals, not representatives of a culture, there is no longer a need to ‘build bridges.’” Indeed, this stellar cast helps ElSaffar achieve a single sound constructed from many sources. They each bring their own traditional modes from around the globe, but the novelty is gone. They make music together. The leader’s extended suite blends a dynamic palette of sounds from different regions with beguiling harmonies and timbres. The slinking polyrhythmic groove of “Transformations” is laced with an elegant post-bop horn line, shimmering vibraphone, and twangy strings, with ElSaffar delivering a haunting vocal incantation. In fact, each piece on the album swerves gently and organically between sections, as the multi-partite writing is ordered by a grand structure that I’m still wrapping my head around. In a less hierarchical culture the profound The Other Shore would be treated like a new symphonic endeavour without the upper crust baggage.

The Quietus
20 September 2021