“Composting” is hardly a common metaphor for making music. But in the hands of Hafez Modirzadeh, this concept of dissolution releasing the raw materials for new creativity becomes a template for musical drama.
The visionary San Jose tenor saxophonist premieres his ambitious project “In Convergence Liberation” on Saturday at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. The concert features an international array of artists steeped in diverse traditions. They include Iraqi-American trumpeter and vocalist Amir ElSaffar, with whom Modirzadeh recorded the 2010 album “Radif Suite” (Pi Recordings), which applies a jazz vocabulary to classical Arabic and Persian musical modes, as well as Argentine-Mexican Latin-jazz vocalist Mili Bermejo.
For the Yerba Buena program, Modirzadeh has constructed the evening’s first piece, “Compost Music,” for the adventurous New York string quartet Ethel by cutting up and reconstituting themes and lines from several dozen existing string quartets. These will be used to create an impromptu onstage dialogue between past and present.
“We’re taking fragments from 300 years of string quartets and abolishing the notion of the composer,” says Modirzadeh, 49. “That’s the compost, the fodder for new things to grow, bits and pieces of the old structures. These musicians come together, accepting their own incompleteness, accepting disintegration. That goes back to Rumi (the 13th-century Persian poet, theologian and Sufi mystic), creation through extinction.”
Throughout the evening, Modirzadeh sets up a series of similar musical conversations. Each piece features a different combination of artists, who are given a text to interpret, whether a score by Modirzadeh, a poem, a rhythmic figure or a melodic line lifted from classical Persian music.
On “Las Orillas del Mar,” he sets the words of an anonymous Andalusian poet from 14th-century Spain to a melody he conjured from a Perso-Iberian cycle of musical scales. This piece will feature vocals by Bermejo, Ethel, Modirzadeh and Amir Etemadzadeh on tombak (a Persian goblet drum). Each musician is responsible for composting his or her own style and reconstituting a new voice with the rest of the ensemble.
Born in Durham, N.C., Modirzadeh moved with his family to Marin while still in elementary school, then spent two years in southern France and six months in Iran before settling in San Jose in the early 1970s. While attending Bellarmine High School, he started sitting in at De Anza Hotel jam sessions led by alto saxophonist Sonny Simmons and trumpeter Barbara Donald, both seminal figures on the 1960s avant-garde scene.
Modirzadeh went on to explore his Iranian roots and gained an understanding of classical Persian modes, or dastgah. While he has kept a relatively low profile in the Bay Area, teaching at San Francisco State University, he has become a creative catalyst for some of the most celebrated young musicians in New York City, such as pianist Vijay Iyer and the members of Ethel, who were drawn to the saxophonist by his multicultural musical vision.
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Tags: Compelling New, New
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