In her American debut this past evening at the New School, Turkish-Kurdish singer Aynur channeled hundreds of years’ worth of brooding, often imploringly insistent ballads while adding unexpected elements of jazz and even a little rock, some of which worked, some of which didn’t. Throughout her almost two hours onstage, she ranged from a cool, unembellished mezzo-soprano delivery, to achingly shivery melismatics and several instances where she’d build crescendoing variations on a mantra of sorts. The material was heavy on singalongs that rose to triumphant, or almost vengefully swaying dances, which made sense considering that much of her repertoire focuses on the struggles of women in times of hardship and war as well as on a personal level.
Pairing her with the brilliant clarinetist Kinan Azmeh was a genius move. At first, he’d echo her with long, low, looming phrases. Then as the show gathered steam, the two indulged in some playful jousting, culminating in a jaunty duel where he pushed her further and further into some coy jazz scatting.
But the interludes that resonated with the audience the most and generated the most spontaneous response, sonically and otherwise, comprised the more traditional anthems. There, she was at her most forceful and intense, tanbur lute player Cemil Qocgiri supplying vast dynamics that ranged from elegantly plaintive opening taqsims, to hypnotically circling minor chords, some unexpectedly rocking, jangly riffs and serpentine leads in tandem with pianist Salman Gambarov.
When the piano was shimmery and lustrous, and at its most spare, Gambarov added useful ballast and overhead sheen. But it’s hard to play postbop jazz and remain in a single mode without straying, and since many of the songs in the set were essentially one-chord jams, the piano’s intimations of the blues and a little funk were far enough outside the songs’ harmonies to the point where they became jarring, both melodically and rhythmically. Obviously, this group’s raison d’etre is to rescue a repertoire that goes back centuries and put it in contemporary context, but the piano isn’t a traditional Kurdish instrument. A harmonium, or a microtonal accordion, would have made more sense.
This show was the inaugural concert of the World Music Institute’s new season: for decades, they’ve been counted on to delivery a vast variety of sounds from around the world rarely heard in the United States, let alone in this city. The next concert on the calendar is on Oct 13 at 8 PM at the Murmur Ballroom, the old synagogue on the way to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, featuring cameos from all 25 members of the global cast of the OneBeat collective currently on tour. General admission is $15.