El Saffar, as a trumpeter, is a fascinating combination of American core jazz player in the tradition of a sound informed by the intervallic playing of a Freddie Hubbard or a Woody Shaw, but he also brings middle-eastern inflections and melodic flavors in his approach, so this is mainstream jazz with a very special flavor.
Along for the ride are tenor saxophonist Ole Mathisen, pianist John Escreet, bassist François Moulin and drummer Dan Weiss, whom all together spin the velvety vortex of sound that swirls and swirls, lulling the listener into a story that travels far and wide, but always with the sense of one's being enveloped in warm sonic waters, as we sail past many interesting and intriguing harmonic planes and melodic strains.
This is all thanks to some well-crafted tunes and very fleet playing by these musicians, as in the thematic turns of phrase in the three pieces making up the "Ishtarum Suite" that resemble the world-music flavored themes of a Wayne Shorter or the hard bop neologisms of a Hank Mobley, or, as in the case of the track titled "Athar Kurd," like something out of Miles Smiles. The closer, "Ending Piece," recalls George Russell's compositional style ("Ezz-thetic" comes to mind) with its rapid-fire multi-noted theme, driving rhythm section, abstract cascade of notes and ostinato figures from the piano, bass and drums.
The classic jazz quintet is alive and well here on this release that provides one example of how the 21st century muse informs and reanimates what was once a good idea, and which is still so.
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