“The composer’s job is to create a context for music-making to reflect the emerging consciousness.” Hafez Modirzadeh

Hafez Modirzadeh

ETHEL performs music of Hafez Modirzadeh
By Cornelius Dufallo

Hafez Modirzadeh, a visionary saxophonist, theorist and composer, has been developing his own style of inter-cultural improvisation for three decades. His mentors and collaborators have included Ornette Coleman, some of the founding members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and the great Iranian violinist, Mahmoud Zoufonoun. ETHEL first encountered Modirzadeh in 2007, and the two parties felt an immediate artistic sympathy.

Since that time, Modirzadeh has created a body of work for saxophone, flutes, karna, string quartet, trumpet, santur, tombak, daf, and voice. On July 23, 2011 nine musicians came together to perform this music at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, CA. The lineup included ETHEL, Mili Bermejo (Mexican Argentinian jazz vocalist), Amir ElSaffar (Iraqi – American trumpeter), Faraz Minooei (Iranian santur player), Amir Abbas Etemadzadeh (Iranian percussionist), and the composer himself on saxophone and Karna. The unforgettable event, which Modirzadeh entitled In Convergence Liberation, was met with enthusiasm from a large audience, and all nine artists spent the following two days together at Open Path Studios in San Jose, recording the music for a forthcoming CD.

Matching-spirit
Dufallo, Modirzadeh, and ElSaffar practice "matching-spirit"

Modirzadeh’s work combines fascinating musical and philosophical concepts. “Composting” (a specific type of improvisational dialogue based on pre-existing written material), “matching–spirit” (a process of group improvisation using shared interval structures), “intoning” (a technique of improvising within a unison, playing with the higher partials of the overtone series), “tetramodes” (a carefully calibrated microtonal system based on a synthesis of ancient and modern approaches to intervallic relationships), and “Makam X” (an overarching and inter-cultural musical system of various partials of the harmonic series) were some of the techniques that the nine musicians shared and practiced together. Rhythmic meters of 17/4 (5+5+7) --inspired by Persian poetry -- were the foundation for improvisations that defied cultural boundaries. Persian modal systems, Iraqi maqam, Andalusian musical traditions, aspects of Indonesian gamelan, and references to western classical composers from the past three centuries were all called upon in this collaboration.

Tetramode
Tetramode Unfolding

In 2009 Modirzadeh described his musical aesthetic this way: “It begins with a few ideas sounded together, each one in an incomplete fashion, as if light were peering through traditions’ tattered curtains.” More recently he has started to speak of a “Convergence Liberation Principle,” which is directly inspired by the gathering at Tahrir Square, which he considers “the most concrete and brilliant example” of Convergence Liberation. Musically speaking, the concept is connected to a dual approach of honing individual style, while also transcending all cultural distinctions. The strategies that we used to translate these concepts into sound were mostly intuitive. We each drew from our own years of discipline in our respective traditions, but we also abandoned that discipline to make ourselves totally vulnerable. The process was mysterious, but we could all clearly feel a deep connection to our nature as social animals. For a few days we rejected the concepts of right and wrong; instead, we created a group dynamic based entirely on trust.

Convergence Liberation
Members of the Convergence Liberation Band
(From left: Cornelius Dufallo, Amir Abbas Etemadzadeh, Mary Rowell, Dorothy Lawson, Ralph Farris, Amir ElSaffar, Hafez Modirzadeh)