Saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh’s new album “Post-Chromodal Out!” is the result of a 30-year quest for a radically cross-cultural music.
Hafez Modirzadeh was 14 and at a summer music camp when he heard Charlie Parker for the first time. It was from Parker’s Dial sessions.
“I just wanted to know what it must have felt like to feel that free–that liberated and connected to sound,” he remembers.
Modirzadeh’s quest for the freedom he heard in Parker’s playing led him deep into jazz music, and to music conservatory. But he was also listening to other sounds, ones outside traditional Western music.
His Iranian-American father used to sing classical Persian songs around the house in San Jose, California. And after conservatory, Modirzadeh studied with master Persian violinist Mahmoud Zoufonoun.
One thing Modirzadeh found in Persian music was notes that just aren’t there in Western music. Adding these new notes got him to phrases like this.
Pianist Vijay Iyer saw Modirzadeh play back in the early 90s. “I remember just being blown away by it, it was kind of terrifying actually,” Iyer says, laughing at the memory.
He says Modirzadeh’s set wasn’t like those cross-cultural musical encounters where people from two different traditions play together, but don’t really find common musical ground. “What he did is more like what Coltrane did, which is dig deep into the fundamentals of music, and find something that the whole human family has in common,” Iyer says.
There are, to be sure, echoes of earlier music on Modirzadeh’s new album, “Post-Chromodal Out!” There’s a re-imagining of Charlie Parker’s “Scrapple From the Apple,” improvisations over a 12-bar blues form, and a song inspired by sung Persian poetry.
This one evokes the legendary sax/trumpet duo of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry.
The musicians on the new album include long-time collaborators Amir El Saffar, Royal Hartigan, and Ken Filiano. Vijay Iyer plays piano.
To get Iyer outside the realm of western scales, Modirzadeh had the piano re-tuned. We asked Iyer what it was like to sit down at a piano that looked like every piano he’d ever played, but didn’t really sound like it.
“It really thrusts you into the moment,” Iyer says. “You can’t rely on habits, you have to listen to what’s happening and deal with that. Not with what you want to happen but what’s actually happening. So in some ways it’s liberating.”
Giving musicians this new kind of freedom seems to be a big part of it for Modirzadeh. He talks about his piano tunings—and his musical ideas generally–as being a kind of bridge that he hopes will carry a younger generation to new places.
“I’m sure that there’s going to be some brilliant, brilliant young pianists that will take this idea and create some beautiful, beautiful music that will say things that will really resonate differently in people’s hearts and minds and ears,” he says.
In his own way, Modirzadeh’s passing along the kind of freedom he found, many years ago, in Charlie Parker’s music.
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