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American Jazz with a Global Beat

The Amir ElSaffar Quintet (photo credit: Adam Kissick)
The Amir ElSaffar Quintet (photo credit: Adam Kissick)

Jazz musicians Amir ElSaffar, Pablo Mayor and Samuel “Jomion” Gnonlonfoun, are each part of a growing cohort of composer/ musicians who are expanding jazz’s vocabulary through engagement with traditions alongside and outside of jazz. A live-streamed JazzFest White Plains program, “Jazz at the Intersections,” will bring together this group of New York composer/musicians known for blending, crossing, challenging and transcending musical boundaries.

Each of these three musicians, in his own way, brings jazz into conversation with musical traditions that are tied to his ethnic identity. ElSaffar, who is Iraqi-American, is conversant not only in the language of contemporary jazz, but in the centuries-old and now endangered tradition of Iraqi Maqam. Using microtones and ornaments idiomatic to Iraqi and Arabic music, this trumpeter creates a wholly unique approach to harmony and melody in his jazz composition and improvisation.

Pianist Mayor, originally from Cali, Columbia, is known for combining jazz with Colombian folk rhythms, salsa and Cuban charanga. His concept and aesthetic of “Folklore Urbano” is revolutionizing the ways in which audiences hear and understand the relationship between jazz and Latin American music.

Gnonlonfoun is a renowned musician from Benin, West Africa, who today lives in Brooklyn with his brothers and daughter. Jomion & the Uklos, their family band, combines the rhythms and songs from Beninoise vodun culture with reggae, salsa and jazz. The result is a new vibrant hybrid dance music that Gnonlonfoun dubs “whedo- vodun-jazz.”

For the health and safety of the community, this year’s JazzFest, sponsored by Bank of America, will be presented virtually as a series of live-streamed evening programs taking place on September 8-11. Programs will allow audiences an intimate view of the jazz industry’s rising stars, jazz mentorships and more. The September 10 “Jazz at the Intersections” program described above will feature live performances by each of these three artists, followed by a moderated discussion about the topic of hybridity and fusion in contemporary jazz composition.

A version of this article first appeared in the July issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNewsis distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.

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