World Premiere of In Convergence Liberation
Hafez Modirzadeh and ETHEL with Mili Bermejo, Amir ElSaffar, Amir Abbas Etemadzadeh, and Faraz Minooei
Bay Area saxophonist and musical theorist Hafez Modirzadeh presents an evening of seven original, intercultural works featuring acclaimed New York-based contemporary string quartet ETHEL and guest artists representing Latin, Arab and Persian musical traditions. Based on concepts developed through more than thirty years of cross-cultural musical exploration, Modirzadeh applies his “chromodal” philosophy of music to both eastern and western traditions to create an entirely new suite called “Convergence Liberation.” This draws upon American jazz and Persian dastgah heritages to represent an exciting new approach to cross-cultural musical collaboration, free of formal constraints, that layers the musical elements to create a new kind of harmonic blend. Modirzadeh’s current work with ETHEL is a culmination of over two decades of devising original approaches to cross-cultural improvisation, orchestrated here with chamber-like pieces that include Persian percussion, Spanish tone poems, and Iraqi santur and maqam vocals. Following the performance at YBCA, the ensemble will record a CD of these new works at Open Path Studios in San Jose.
This project is made possible with a 2010-11 Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) grant from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP) at San Francisco State University.
ABOUT THE PIECE
1. “Compost Music” consists of what Modirzadeh calls the “mother fodder” of his approach to disintegrate three centuries of classical string music into an ancestral dialogue for ETHEL’s creative inspiration. Incomplete musical ideas from some three dozen string quartet composers between the 18th-20th centuries are made unrecognizable, thus empowering the musicians to weave their own transcendence of the linear chronological, of the static composer’s model set by tradition. With western chromatic temperament as a common reference, Mozart and Bartok become one another in the shape-shifting present, by performers interactively disintegrating their written music into fodder for their new creations. This piece features ETHEL.
2. “Tetraspheres” incorporates several concepts involving poly-tempered melodies, starting with each of the strings tuned to one of the 11-13th partials of the harmonic, or overtone series. This natural acoustical phenomenon, seen here as a musical system liberated from geo-political imposition, is appropriately identified as “Makam X”. Inspired by the shimmer-aesthetic of gamelan practice, players engage in “intoning," together going inside a unison tone to interrelate with microtonal beats. This piece uses cipher-notation to convey such poly-modal possibilities, using ETHEL members' names in binary code for melodic conception; Modirzadeh accompanies ETHEL on saxophone.
3. “The Number That Moves” abstracts motifs from Beethoven’s Adagio section of his Piano Sonata no. 26 to induce an “idiomatic transformation” from the original notation, where the absence of bar-lines shifts perspective towards collective interdependence. The title refers to the number 3 that “turns,” a homophone for “tern” -ary in music, but also related to Earth (‘terra”) as the “ter” -tial resonance in “E-tern-al”. This piece introduces Amir Abbas Etemadzadeh on tombak, with ETHEL and Modirzadeh.
4. “Las Orillas del Mar” are lyrics from an anonymous Andalusian poetress of 14th century Spain. Her haunting message is conveyed with a melody imagined from a Perso-Iberian scale cycle, itself derived from a “tetramode” concept that integrates tonal centers, ebbing and flowing with wave-like accompaniment. Mili Bermejo is featured on vocals, along with ETHEL, Modirzadeh, and Etemadzadeh on tombak and jazz brushes.
las olas, madre
A las orillas del mar
mi pena con las que vienen
mibien (con) las que se van
Que mira la mar
la mal casada
Ay, que miraba la mar!
Como es ancha y larga, Oh!
Van y vienen
las olas, olas...madre, madre...
(anonima feminina, 14th c. Andalus)
5. “La Angustia de los Amantes," a Spanish rendition of a poem by the 13th century Persian poet, Jallaledin Rumi, introduces the idea of a most ancient scale, or “cradle mode”: that there is gravity to sound, tones defined by the sigh and swell of human emotion, freely moving while grounded by primary harmonic partials. Mili Bermejo is featured once again on vocals, with ETHEL, Modirzadeh, Etemadzadeh on both daff and tombak; Amir ElSaffar is introduced on trumpet.
Los Amantes nos dejan la huella de su vida
El lamento de los corazones
Los corazones rotos (de la vida) es la puerta abierta hacia Dios!
Una vida sin amor no vale nada
El amor es el agua
Bebe la con corazon y con el alma.
Si Me Amo Te Amo, Oh Dios Mio!
Oh Dulce Amor! Si Te Amo Me Amo...
(Jalalledin Rumi, 13th c. Persia)
6. “Karna Passages” makes use of a hybrid version of the Persian double-reed, karna: the indigenous finger-board and bocal are flanked by a bassoon reed and sawed-off trombone bell. The result is an instrumental feature in three movements representing the spiral-nature of history, with sparse opening and closing sections interrupted by a driving segment in 17/4 (5+5+7). Modirzadeh is featured on karna with ElSaffar on trumpet, Etemadzadeh on daff/percussion, and ETHEL.
7. “Sor Juana” is Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648/51-1695), an important figure in early Mexican literature whose “Sátira Filosófica” denounces the male hypocrisy she experienced as a nun and scholar, establishing her as the predecessor of feminism in the Americas. This poem culminates the concert with full ensemble: Mili Bermejo resurrects the voice of Sor Juana in its original Spanish, using a mode common to both Persian and Andalucian traditions, while Amir ElSaffar provides vocal support in Iraqi maqam, reflecting eight centuries of Arab Spain resonating in Sor Juana’s Colonial Mexico. Along with Etemadazeh on tombak and daff, and Modirzadeh on saxophone, ElSaffar also plays a santur duo with newly introduced Faraz Minooei, who brilliantly displays the tension of history by articulating two disparate Persian modal systems (or dastgah) at once. In all, aspiring convergence of musical systems here reflects not only a drive towards shared source, but also liberation from those formal restraints that suppress shared empowerment. From the musical to socio-political, a Convergence Liberation Principle is offered in consideration of the recent turn of events throughout the Arabic and Persian-speaking worlds.
I am thrilled to present world-class saxophonist and longtime Bay Area resident Hafez Modirzadeh. His contributions to the world of improvised music, creative jazz and intercultural musical exploration has been both visionary and pioneering. This concert is a manifestation of the work that has so deeply enraptured Modirzadeh’s soul for over three decades, as it showcases the bridges he’s built within the world of contemporary creative improvised music, as well as the disintegration of Western musical theory and thought, in order to integrate what he calls a chromodal discourse from a diverse palate of world cultures that unify sound. Sometimes his sound is chaotic, dark, and aggressive, while other times it’s bouncy, airy and light. It is a universal language. It is music from the heart and mind of a master artist. This concert is truly special because all of his collaborators are trailblazers in their own genres. Although the focus of this concert is Hafez, I’m particularly excited that he has chosen the renowned post-classical string quartet ETHEL, the exquisite singer Mili Bermejo, and cutting edge trumpeter Amir El Saffar as collaborators for his project.
From Beijing to Tehran, London to Granada, saxophonist/theorist Hafez Modirzadeh has performed and published on a cross-cultural musical approach he calls "chromodal," developed from American jazz and Iranian dastgah heritages, and allowing for an alinear improvisational practice able to incorporate multiple systems of music. This concept has been featured over the past two decades on such critically acclaimed releases as Radif/Suite (2010, with Amir ElSaffar on Pi Recordings), Zaman 8 (2005, Six Degrees Records), The Mystery of Sama (1998, with Ramin Zoufonoun on Asian Improv Records), The Peoples Blues (1996, XDOT 25), and Dandelion and Bemsha Alegria (2003-07) from his own label, Disques Chromodal. His music has been described as a "radical cultural exchange" (New York Times), that is "inclusive and compelling" (Downbeat), “achieving rare emotional impact” (All About Jazz), and "worthy of any accolades or praise one can muster in the creative improvised music world" (All Music Guide). Modirzadeh’s paths have crossed with numerous masters from world traditions, including Ornette Coleman, Mahmoud Zoufonoun, members of the original AACM, as well as his own generation of Asian American musical artists. A Senior Fulbright Scholar and NEA Jazz Fellow, Dr. Modirzadeh is currently a Professor of World Cultures in Music at San Francisco State University.
Acclaimed as one of America’s premier postclassical string quartets, ETHEL invigorates contemporary concert music with refreshing exuberance, fierce intensity, imaginative programming and exceptional artistry. Formed in 1998, New York’s ebullient ETHEL is comprised of Juilliard-trained performers Cornelius Dufallo (violin), Ralph Farris (viola), Dorothy Lawson (cello) and Mary Rowell (violin).
ETHEL performs adventurous music of the past four decades, with emphasis on works composed since 1995. Boldly exploring new synergies between tradition and technology, ETHEL initiates innovative collaborations with an extraordinary community of American and international artists such as Joe Jackson, Kurt Elling, Bang on a Can, Todd Rundgren, David Byrne, Loudon Wainwright III and STEW. ETHEL tours the world, appearing on stages as varied as Venice Biennale, Sydney Opera House, Ravinia, TED, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. ETHEL has released several albums since their debut, self-titled ETHEL (Cantaloupe Music, 2003), which was named Billboard’s “Best Album” for that year. The group’s next recording, Light (Cantaloupe Music, 2006), was selected as #3 on Amazon.com’s “Best of 2006: Top Classical Editor’s Picks.” ETHEL currently serves as the 2011 Artists-in-Residence at New York City's Park Avenue Armory. http://www.ethelcentral.com/
Jazz and Latin vocalist, composer, Berklee College of Music Professor. For more than three decades, Boston-based vocalist/composer Mili Bermejo has transcended the borders between cultures and musical genres. Performing in the US since 1980, critics have called her "the Latin equivalent of Abbey Lincoln...a singer/composer who challenges us with her musical honesty" (Cadence) and described her inclusive sound as "part poetry-folk, part Sarah Vaughn sophistication" (Boston Magazine) and the place "where jazz meets Latin with elegance and soul" (Boston Globe).
"Cross-cultural projects are now commonplace," writes the Boston Phoenix's Jon Garelick, "but Mili Bermejo's aesthetic has always been singular...long a fixture on the Boston scene, [she] combines all manner of Latin American folk in a way that gives her music a flavor that's as up-to-the-minute as it is Old World."
Daughter of the Mexican composer Guillermo Bermejo and his wife Luz, an Argentinean tango singer, Ms. Bermejo's blood already contained the wealth of two musical cultures at birth. She was born in Buenos Aires, but raised in the socially and artistically diverse environment of Mexico City where she grew up internalizing the music and political statements of the 60's and 70's made by the Argentineans, Chileans, Brazilians and Uruguayans in exile in Mexico City.
This cultural diversity, interaction between artists of different countries and disciplines, and their commitment to tolerance in the Mexican artistic community laid the groundwork for her diverse style and dedication to the social responsibility of the artist.
Although she had already performed professionally most of her life, Ms. Bermejo didn’t discover jazz until her college years when her brother introduced her to the music of Miles Davis. A chance encounter with pianist and Third Stream pioneer Ran Blake led to her first trip to America for a summer jazz program in Boston in 1978. She moved to Boston permanently to study jazz at Berklee College of Music in 1980, and accepted a faculty position following her graduation in 1984. She was the first woman to receive the prestigious Achievement in Jazz Award from New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA). She is also a former Jazz Ambassador for the United States Information Service/Arts America, the recipient of multiple grants from New England Foundation for the Arts and Meet the Composer, and a board member of the Institute for Community Leadership in Seattle, Washington.
Iraqi-American trumpeter, santour player, vocalist, and composer Amir ElSaffar, is an artist on the forefront of a wave of musicians who are incorporating the traditional musical styles of their cultural backgrounds with modern sensibilities. Whether playing trumpet in a jazz context, or singing and playing santour in an Iraqi setting, ElSaffar brings a depth of emotion and authenticity to his music that has spoken to musicians and audiences globally, in all, blurring the lines and conventions that differentiate styles, toward a music that truly resonates human. His 2010 CD release on Pi Recordings, “Radif/Suite,” is an inspired collaboration with Hafez Modirzadeh.
YBCA's programs are made possible in part by:
National Endowment for the Arts
YBCA Performance 11–12 is made possible in part by:
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Additional Funding for YBCA Performance 11–12:
Zellerbach Family Foundation
Panta Rhea Foundation
Cultural Services of the French Embassy
New England Foundation for the Arts
and Members of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
SF Bay Guardian