A Dolunay show is like a long magic carpet ride: you never know where one song ends and another begins, and either way, you don’t want it to end. If there’s any sound that’s appropriate for this particular era in New York, it’s sad songs written by immigrants in hostile territory. Most of Dolunay’s serpentine ballads, drenched in melancholy and longing, draw on the tradition of the Rumeli people, native Turkish speakers who brought the spine-tingling ornamentation and Middle Eastern tones of their music to the Balkans.
With her full, expressive voice, vast range and wounded vibrato, frontwoman/drummer Jenny Luna is an ideal vehicle for this kind of material. She and the band – who lately has been a trio with oudist Adam Good and violinist Eylem Basaldi – have a three-week Saturday evening residency this December at 6 PM at Barbes. starting tonight, Dec 3 and then on the 10th and 17th as well. Next week will be a live radio broadcast, opening for fantastic Macedonian band Odglasi and then on the 17th Dolunay promises a long, luxurious set of classical Turkish maqam music.
Their most recent Manhattan gig was at the American Folk Art Museum last month. Luna played dombek (goblet drum) on the night’s faster numbers and daf – the boomy, funereal frame drum – on the slower tunes in the set, amplified by the museum atrium’s echoey sonics for extra majesty. Good got most of the intros and took several long, judiciously crescendoing solos, buildling matter-of-factly out of variations on catchy chromatic riffs and then taking them skyward. Luna took one mournful, melismatic vocal intro by herself over Basaldi’s resonant washes. The violinist alternated between tersely sailing lines, biting microtones and one particularly spine-tingling, shivery solo into one of the night’s many mysterious segues.
The songs covered plenty of familiar territory: people gone over the mountains and missing their loved ones, or returning to the family village only to discover that their sweethearts have gone off with someone else. The most memorable original was a Basaldi ballad that equated the end of a relationship to seaweed washed up onshore. Beyond its poignant beauty, this music is comforting in the sense that people have suffered for centuries yet somehow we’ve managed to survive – something we really have to figure out before January 21, 2017 comes around.