New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: Cemil Qocgiri

Yet Another Haunting, Exhilarating Album From Oud Master Mehmet Polat

Oudist Mehmet Polat hails from the Urfa region of Turkey, a hotspot for cultural cross-pollination for centuries. So it’s hardly a surprise to hear how individualistically he blends traditional Turkish sounds with Arabic, African and Andalucian music in addition to American jazz rhythms. Every year, he seems to put out a new record that always ends up on the best albums of the year page here. The latest one, The Promise – streaming at Bandcamp – will definitely be on the best of 2020 list here next month. In general, it’s Polat’s at his most upbeat and optimistic.

While Polat’s custom-made oud has a couple of extra bass strings, the electrifying opening track here, Firefighters is more of an exploration of the upper registers, peaking out with a series of incisive chords after a long build through enigmatic Balkan-tinged modes over Daniel van Huffelen’s bass and Joan Terol Amigo’s drums.

Polat builds an almost teasing, unresolved suspense in the second track, Nature Hits Back, before spiraling and then descending to the depths over percussionist Ruven Ruppik’s many textures and shifting rhythms. Pathfinder is a catchy, anthemic, dynamically vamping number over elegantly syncopated, boomy frame drum by Alper Kekeç.

Polat teams up with Sinan Arat on ney flute and Kekeç on frame drum again for Footprints, a hypnotically pulsing, mysterious, mostly one-chord jam. Then he completely flips the script with the spare, funky Permission, featuring a starkly melismatic solo from kamancheh fiddle player Elnur Mikayılov.

Polat and the opening track’s rhythm section hint that they’re going into qawwali as Swinging in Hands gets underway, but instead they go off on a bouncy West African kora-inspired tangent and end with a spacious bass solo. The undulating Fidelity to İstanbul makes a good, upbeat segue.

Guest Shwan Sulaiman contributes an expressive, dramatic vocal in Being the Voice over a scampering backdrop with echoes of North African rai music. Polat breaks out his loop and distortion pedals for Symbolizations, the most overtly psychedelic track here.

The real stunner here is Nêterseno, with haunting clarinet and defiantly populist vocals from Mikail Aslan and trebly tenbur lute by Cemil Qocgiri, picking up with a fiery flamenco groove before coming full circle. Polat plays a darkly incisive, melancholy solo over a drone in the lament Nothing Is Yours and closes with My Cultural Womb, a syncopated, edgily modal number reflecting influences from Turkey to Egypt.

Plaintive Kurdish Sounds From Aynur in Her US Debut

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.