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Thollem's Astral Traveling Sessions: w/ Hafez Modirzadeh (Astral Spirits)

One of a series of pianist Thollem McDonas' Astral Traveling Sessions, this unique duo configuration with NY saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh uses a sonic palette of eight re-tuned pitches for piano and saxophone in an attempt to expand harmonic empathy, bringing Eastern pitch relationships to Western improvisation through a series of extraordinary solo and duo recordings.

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product information:

Label: Astral Spirits
Catalog ID: AS153-24
Squidco Product Code: 31274

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2021
Country: USA
Packaging: Cardboard Gatefold
Tracks 1-8 recorded in San Francisco, California, on August 12th, 2018.

Tracks 9-12 recorded at Park West Studios, Brooklyn, New York, December 18th, 2019, by Jim Clouse.


Hafez Modirzadeh-alto saxophone, tenor saxophone

Thollem McDonas-piano

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Artist Biographies:

"Saxophonist/theorist Hafez Modirzadeh has performed, recorded, published and lectured internationally on original cross-cultural musical concepts which include "Convergence Liberation" (in Critical Studies in Improvisation, 2011), "Compost Music" (in Leonardo, 2009), "Aural Archetypes" (in Black Music Research, 2001), as well as "Chromodality" (for Wesleyan University, 1992). Twice an NEA Jazz Fellow, Dr. Modirzadeh received a Senior Fulbright Award in 2006 to work with Flamenco and Gnawan traditions in Andalucia and Morocco, and again in 2014, to research Turkish Makam harmonization in Ankara. He is currently a Professor of Creative/World Music at San Francisco State University."

-Hafez Modirzadeh Website (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

"Thollem is a pianist, keyboardist, organist, composer, improviser, singer-songwriter, activist, author and teacher. He's spent his life skirting and erasing the edges of boundaries musically, culturally, geographically. His work is ever changing, evolving and responding to the times and his experiences, both as a soloist and in collaboration with hundreds of artists across idioms and disciplines. Though Thollem's widely known as an acoustic piano player, he's also the lead vocalist for the Italian agit-punk band Tsigoti and has recently branched out significantly into the world of electronics through a multitude of projects.

Thollem was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, studying the standard classical piano repertoire, composing and improvising since he was a young child and absorbing the myriad of sounds of his culturally diverse upbringing. After dedicating his 20s and 30s to grassroots political activism, he's refocused his attention these last 15 years on a breadth of musics that incorporate his myriad experiences and curiosities. In this last decade alone, he has played well over 1,000 concerts throughout N. America and Europe as a soloist and in collaboration with hundreds of musicians, dancers, and filmmakers. As leader or co-leader, he has released over 50 albums in that span on 22 different vanguard labels to international critical acclaim. "Thollem is an astounding pianist who understands the huge scope of the instrument" (Terry Riley) and who continues to delve into the furthest reaches and sub-genres of Post-Classical, Free Jazz, Noise, Punk, dance and film. A brief cross section of his many recent collaborators include William Parker, Pauline Oliveros, Stefano Scodanibbio, Nels Cline, Mike Watt, Rob Mazurek, Martha Colburn and ACVilla. He is the founding director of Estamos Ensemble, a Mexican-American cross border ensemble for musical exchange as well as the lead singer of the Italian agit-punk band Tsigoti. Presently Thollem is developing an audio/visual experience about America through an 8 month, 48 state odyssey with his partner the videographer ACVilla. He's also a published author about art, politics and his travels in The Anthology of Essays On Deep Listening, Full Moon Magazine (Prague) and First American Art Magazine."

-Thollem McDonas Website (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.
track listing:

1. Solo Improvisation I 3:36

2. Facet 26 3:15

3. Facet 27 4:59

4. Facet 28 1:38

5. Facet 29 5:06

6. Solo Improvisation II 1:55

7. Facet 32 1:40

8. Facet 39≈40 3:28

9. Solo Improvisation III 8:52

10. Duo Improvisation I 2:52

11. Duo Improvisation II 5:42

12. Solo Improvisation IV 8:41
sample the album:

descriptions, reviews, &c.

Notes by Hafez Modirzadeh:
Here is a sonic palette of eight re-tuned pitches for piano and saxophone, explored in an attempt to expand harmonic empathy. The aesthetic that arises from this interrelating of the foreign with familiar reveals an intrinsic logic, or inherent beauty, that lifts hegemonic remnants of one temperament from another. And there, within where the Tao splits, every fundamental tone illuminates a person, resonating facets of every ancestral partial, sounding humanity from its source. Thollem has radiated this humanity ever since our first meeting at an improvisation class back in the early 90's - the joy exuded on that day, from that piano, opened the sky for me. Liken this to our flat view from earth of a constellation-filled sky, where Thollem's astral purview encompasses the depth of these distances, traveling near-to-distant between such destined points, his sound being as the line seen between the stars. To hear his sound, then, is to gaze up into creation and smile in awe, feeling a rotating canvas of ideas in ecstatic order, holding us together in generous surrender to a facet-pouring spirit of friendship. These Facets and Improvisations are from the very first sessions with this particular re-tuning, in San Francisco, capturing the compositions in their most essential form, while the Improvisations that close the album are from the very last session in Brooklyn. Altogether, here is a befitting resolution to a decades-long idea, delivered with/by a comrade whose life-arc in music completes my own.

Notes by Thollem:
"I first met Hafez when he was playing at Ajax (might have still been Upper Eulipia's at that point) in downtown San José. It was one of the essential transformative moments for me. What I absorbed that night I have carried with me throughout the last three decades. It wasn't necessarily the music he was playing, though I loved the music. What really shook me was his profound relationship to sound itself and what felt to me as a sacred experience. I recognized my connection with the eternal in that moment, unlike any moment I had had and this radically deepened my relationship to my own music and artistic path going forward. I ended up studying Persian music with Hafez, collaborating with him in a variety of ways over the years and most importantly have enjoyed a life-long friendship!"

Related Categories of Interest:

Improvised Music
Free Improvisation
West Coast/Pacific US Jazz
Duo Recordings
Recordings by or featuring Reed & Wind Players
Piano & Keyboards
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