By Glenn Siegel
Thursday’s Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares concert by Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers Ensemble was remarkable in many ways, not the least of which was the performance by the drummer Dan Weiss. Nasheet Waits, the Ensemble’s regular percussionist, was in residence for a week at the Village Vanguard with Kurt Rosenwinkel and Eric Revis. Weiss, who in recent years has propelled the bands of David Binney, Lee Konitz, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Miguel Zenon, was making his first public appearance with Amir’s celebrated sextet. You would have never known it.
What made his debut astounding were the technical and emotional demands of the music. This was not a program of standards and over-used jazz conventions. This was ElSaffar’s “Crisis Suite”, an evening-length amalgam of super-complex rhythm and non-Western harmony, full of multiple shifts in mood. Weiss sounded completely at ease moving between ElSaffar’s co-mingled world of Iraqi maqam and jazz tradition.
After the show, both bassist Carlo DeRosa and tenor saxophonist Ole Mathisen shook their heads in disbelief at how effortlessly Weiss had lifted the bandstand in his first try; a home run in his first at bat.
Afterwards, Weiss was nonchalant about his inaugural hit with the band: “When you’ve played the drums for a while, you learn what to do.”
The concert took place in the Robyn Newhouse Hall, at the Community Music School of Springfield. The dramatic 1930s-era Art Deco hall was the former Springfield Safe Deposit and Trust Building, then Fleet Bank. The sound, thanks to engineer Steve Moser, was magnificent.
From my perspective, this concert was one of the high points of my presenting career. The evocative writing, the compelling backstory, the virtuosity of everyone on stage, the attentiveness and enthusiasm of the audience, the dramatic setting and the joyful spirit in the room, made this a peak experience.
Here’s Jonathan Stevens’ (Hungry Ghost Bakery) poetic response to the evening:
Two rivers, One bank
First National, Second National, Community
Music & Loan!
moneyed marble makes great acoustics,
toilet vault full of sound deposits…
from Iraq to Chicago to the City of
(foreclosed) Homes, liquid assets inside a
trumpet calling this mosque to meet
“Crisis”! old abacus accounting!
dumbek tempo double-downs the
drums. The bass invests, then
withdraws. Interest rates rise & fall
with fingers on the tenor saxophone
beautiful old coins scatter out of
an oud. Old notes, torn notes,
Federal Reserve of Babylon: falling
off the score
the man is “Amir” teller: smelling the
mint growing between
the Tigris and Euphrates. His horn
is full of current-sea: unfilthy lucre
washed in waves of melody
devaluation of paper silence,
inflation of pumping oil
a seaweed on low boil is a
double dulcimer: then this gets totally
hammered. Struck into silver
& gold, engraved with the pluck of a tar
We’re two doors down from my old office at
the Housing Allowance Program. We’re two
blocks up from this Valley’s inaccessible
stream. We’re red-lined out of the massive
mural roaring Twenties from the
wall. But we’re deep in debt –happily so- to
these counter-counter-feiters , this register
whose keys are full of spit, this re-consecrated Temple
where the gift of Jazz is given free.