Iraqi trumpeter Amir ElSaffar has spent a considerable amount of time in Egypt, searching for a new musical lexicon, a vehicle for his cross-cultural inclinations. Being one of the few trumpeters in the world to manipulate his instrument microtonally, the Pi records enthusiast can’t be blamed for expecting his new scales and forms to be a game-changer on par with, say, Zooid.
But Alchemy is far more traditional than ElSaffar’s overall ambitions let on. “Ishtarum Suite”, the album’s first three tracks, is subtle almost to a fault. The four track “Selections from the Alchemy Suite” is only slightly less laid-back. As good as ElSaffar and saxophonist Ole Mathisen are at leading the band, Alchemy sounds like a quintet doing a job rather than making magic. I never would have known that it was Dan Weiss playing the drums had it not been for the credits.