DePaul grad Amir ElSaffar leads profound concert at Symphony Center

Amir ElSaffar's Rivers of Sound Orchestra
Chicago Tribune

The year is young, but what likely will stand as one of the more profound concerts of 2018 took place Friday night in Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center.

For trumpeter Amir ElSaffar, who performed on this stage in the late 1990s as a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, returned in a decidedly more visible and multifaceted role: leader of a 17-member ensemble unlike any other.

ElSaffar — who moved to New York in 2000, after graduating from DePaul University’s School of Music — since 2002 has been digging deeply into the music of his Iraqi heritage. Numerous and lengthy periods of study in the Middle East have immersed him in ancient musical practices, which he ingeniously has interwoven with the methods of jazz improvisation and composition.

But more than that, ElSaffar also has applied his knowledge of classical, blues and other musical languages to his aptly named Rivers of Sound Orchestra, which embraces a wide swath of his cross-cultural experiments to date. Last year, ElSaffar and this magisterial ensemble released “Not Two,” the recording’s title referencing the composer’s desire to break free of the jazz-meets-Iraq dichotomy with a more all-encompassing approach to creating sound.
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