Hyper+ Amir ElSaffar — Saadif (nusica, 2016)
The Italian trio Hyper+ has a bright sound and a loose demeanor that match trumpeter Amir ElSaffar well. The four players combine forces for an intriguing session on Saadif, one of the latest albums from the nonprofit group nusica.org.
ElSaffar has made his name with a couple of well-received albums on the Pi Recordings label, mixing Middle Eastern elements, including chant-like vocals and microtonal scales, into a very New York brand of modern jazz.
Hyper+, meanwhile, favors perky, smart tunes that swing pleasantly. The jazz tradition is never far away — the tune “Futuritmi” includes some trading fours — but they’re thoroughly modern in their approach.
It’s a nice match. The horns of ElSaffar and saxophonist Nicola Fazzini (also of XY Quartet, another band on the nusica label) blend frequently and feed positively off one another. Pieces such as “Hyper Steps” or “13th of November” feature moments of the horns’ improvising intertwining; even when it’s just a fill to augment the other horn’s solo, it’s a warm touch.
The cohesiveness of the music is surprising because the moods of Hyper+’s and ElSaffar’s compositions contrast so starkly. Hyper+’s approach feels direct, even when the composition is a bit complex, as in the irregular hopping of the tune “Hyper Steps.” ElSaffar’s songs, on the other hand, bring solemn traditional elements, including singing, to the introductions of “Kosh Reng” and “13th of November.”
All is good in the end, though, as the ElSaffar songs eventually open up into a jazzy space that the whole group can occupy. The mood might be a little downcast, but the improvising still shines. I’m thinking particularly of “13th of November,” which gets into a sensational, gray-skied group improvisation with the two horns dancing against Alessandro Fedrigo’s acoustic bass guitar. Eventually, drummer Luca Colussi launches into a snappy groove as the song finally turns a little bit sunny for a final theme.
You can hear the entire album at nusica.org — and remember, they’re a nonprofit, so purchasing one of their CDs would be a nice gesture.