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Album review: Amir ElSaffar's and Hafez Modirzadeh's 'Radif Suite'

March 22, 2010 | 10:57 pm

Radifsuite As far as the average listener's perception is concerned, Iraq and Iran may rank just below Greenland in terms of enjoying a rich jazz tradition. Yet this record's cross-cultural collaboration between Iraqi American trumpeter ElSaffar and Iranian American tenor saxophonist Modirzadeh could change all that.

Split between each composer in two multi-part suites, "Radif Suite" walks a meandering line between Middle Eastern tradition and shape-shifting, improvisation-heavy jazz. Anchored by a nimble rhythm section of drummer Alex Cline and bassist Mark Dresser (fixtures on the Culver City jazz label Cryptogramophone), the album's slowly unfurling yet strikingly accessible pieces at times recall the more exotic explorations of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry.

Working through 12 seamlessly transitional  movements, Modirzadeh's opening "Radif-E Kayhan" suite finds the two horn players occasionally embarking on breathless, entangled improvisations, but much of the suite's heart is more sparse and contemplative, underscored by Cline's colorful percussive rumbles and ringing cymbals. ElSaffar, who gained notice for his more overtly Arabic-influenced 2007 debut "Two Rivers," delivers what may be the more immediately approachable of the album's two halves with "Copper Suite."

A challenging but rewarding collection thick with ideas and inspiration, the record shows how small the world of music can be, even while jazz's world keeps growing.

-- Chris Barton

Amir ElSaffar and Hafez Modirzadeh

"Radif Suite"

(Pi Recordings)

Three stars