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'Crisis' chronicles the continuing development of trumpeter Amir ElSaffar's critically acclaimed Two Rivers Ensemble, a band purpose-built to explore the juncture between jazz and music of the Middle East, in particular the Iraqi maqam.

The work is his reflection on a region in turmoil and strife: revolution, civil war, sectarian violence; a culture's struggle for survival. It sets aside some of the more exploratory work that he has done in recent years to focus on music that is passionate and visceral, a cry from the heart. Crisis was commissioned by the Newport Jazz Festival, where at its 2013 premiere, it made a clear emotional connection to the audience, receiving a rousing standing ovation after just the first piece. Driving and to the point, ElSaffar's music is beyond categorization not jazz, world music or any facile fusion thereof but a world unto its own.

Helping ElSaffar bring his singular musical concept to life are Nasheet Waits on drums, who drives the ensemble with a flexible sense of time combined with deep swing; bassist Carlo DeRosa, who exhibits a mastery of quartertones and rock solid groove; the adroit playing of Tareq Abboushi on buzuq (long-necked lute) and Zafer Tawil on oud and percussion who, in addition to taking masterful solos, work together to fill the role of a chordal instrument, providing a rich, chattering bed of rhythmic counterpoint. Ole Mathisen, a master of microtonal playing on the saxophone contributes beautifully controlled and technically dazzling playing, and serves as the perfect foil to ElSaffar on the front line. After eight years together, the ensemble has developed a profound empathy and an intuitive ease with this highly complex music, enabling the band to play with a creativity that transcends its pure technical challenges.


  1. Name
  2. Introduction - From the Ashes
  3. The Great Dictator
  4. Taqsim Saba
  5. El-Sha'ab (The People)
  6. Love Poem
  7. Flyover Iraq
  8. Tipping Point
  9. Aneen (Weeping), Continued
  10. Love Poem (Complete)
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