MWE Rocks Out New and Classic Turkish Sounds

by delarue

Bay Area band MWE play explosive, raw, intense music from Turkey, Armenia and Central Asia as well as their own songs which draw on those sounds. The band get their otherworldly sonics from the blend of sax, clarinets and the keening overtones of a Turkish zurna over the booming pulse of a davul marching drum. Their high-voltage, often haunting new album Second Wind – streaming all the way through at their Bandcamp page – kicks off with an instrumental cover of Bibining, by Turkmenistan-based group Ashkhabad. A hard-hitting clip-clop rhythm anchors supertight, eerie horn harmonies with echoes of Persian, Azeri and Turkish music.

They do a long take of the well-known Turkish traditional song Kara Gozlu as a diptych. The first part featuring Balkan sensation Eva Salina on lead vocals, hypnotic and resonant with her microtones over an ominous beat and lushly droning reeds; the second part is a long jam that dances along with biting, melismatic solos from both zurna and clarinet. Tea High, by zurna player Calvin Lai has a hypnotic trip-hop groove, his double-reed horn’s keening wail against the backdrop of clarinets creating a strange resonance much like a bagpipe, taking a shivery, swirling solo and then leading the band up to a dizzying thicket of polyrhythms and counterpoint.

Sari Galin, a traditional tune that appears in folk music from Turkey to Central Asia, gets a slow, haunting, funereal treatment with elegant exchanges of voices and plaintively spiraling solos for clarinets and zurna. Sad side note – the woman singer of a Persian group who won a Grammy for her version of this song wasn’t allowed to sing it live with the men in the band in her native Iran.

Ananke, by saxophonist Paul Bertin, kicks off as an upbeat, slinky, Macedonian-tinged number before the clouds come in and the chromatics and darkness descend, with a lusciously microtonal clarinet solo. The Armenian folk song Shalakho sways along over an Arabic-flavored chromatic mode lit up by call-and-response between the zurna and clarinets and bracingly lively solo sax over the drums before the band brings the edgy riffage back. They take they hypnotic, anthemic Agrelia, by Boril Iliev back in time a hundred years over guest Marco Peris’ tapan drum, clarinet circling anxiously over a hypnotically pulsing riff from the rest of the band. The album winds up with the traditional Turkish song Ne Yalan, opening with a long, suspenseful zurno solo over drony atmospherics, then the drums kick in and it’s a towering, slinky, shapeshifting Middle Eastern anthem. Party music in 2013 doesn’t get any more intense than this.