Past Performing Arts | Music

Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers Ensemble featuring Hamid Al-Saadi

Man stands in street holding trumpet

“Uniquely poised to reconcile jazz and Arabic music.”—Wire (UK)

Composer and trumpet star Amir ElSaffar and vocalist Hamid Al-Saadi bring the worlds of Iraqi maqam singing and American jazz to Lincoln Theatre with one common goal—tarab, or musical ecstasy.

Recognized by DownBeat magazine’s 2018 Critics Poll as a Rising Star for both his trumpet playing and arranging, ElSaffar along with his sextet Two Rivers Ensemble have long been incorporating maqam—a complex, microtonal melodic system in traditional Middle Eastern music—to bear on the language of jazz. The acclaimed results of their efforts include the albums Crisis (2015), Inana (2011), and Two Rivers (2007), as well as a string of riveting concerts, including one here at the Wex in 2009 featuring Rudresh Mahanthappa.

Earlier in his career, the Chicago-based ElSaffar found himself drawn to explore his own Iraqi heritage, a pursuit that lead him to Baghdad to study with the last remaining master of the local maqam tradition, Hamid Al-Saadi. The trumpeter not only learned to speak Arabic, play the santour (a dulcimer-like instrument), and sing maqam, but also began to incorporate the system’s fascinating harmonic approach into his increasingly sophisticated compositions for jazz ensemble. Taking its name from the region’s twin rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates—long known as the “cradle of civilization”—this seasoned ensemble (including Nasheet Waits, Carlo De Rosa, Tareq Abboushi, Zafer Tawil, and Ole Mathisen) continues to chart exciting new regions for jazz that build on ElSaffar’s swinging, exquisitely crafted, cross-cultural explorations.

Man stands in street holding trumpet

Amir ElSaffar, photo: Michael Crommett

Man plays trumpet outdoors

Amir ElSaffar, photo: Michael Crommett

Hamid Al-Saadi

Hamid Al-Saadi, photo courtesy of the artist.


Doris Duke Charitable Foundation



The Blackwell Inn



Greater Columbus Arts Council

Ohio Arts Council

The Columbus Foundation

Nationwide Foundation


Past Performing Arts

Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers Ensemble featuring Hamid Al-Saadi