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Tag: Husnu Senlendirici

The Taksim Trio’s Album No. 2: Intricate, Rapturous, Haunting Beauty

One of the year’s most rapturously beautiful, plaintively lush albums is Turkish classical luminaries the Taksim Trio‘s latest release, simply titled Taksim Trio No. 2, streaming at Spotify. Baglama player Ismail Tuncbilek, clarinetist Husnu Senlendirici and kanun player Aytaç Dogan weave haunting, serpentine arrangements to get lost in. Their music’s intricacy is such that unless you listen closely, it’s often hard to tell who’s playing what. Yet the group has a conversational tightness: despite the fact that everybody’s playing a lot of rippling, spiraling notes, nobody steps on each other. The overall ambience tends to be pensive and brooding: most everything here is in a minor key. Tempos are slow and the compositions expansive, pretty much everything here clocking in at over five minutes.

The opening track, Unutmamali is one of the album’s catchiest, anchored by an uneasy, minor-key riff that eventually expands and then the band plays in unison, shifting from a twinkling, starlit lattice of individual voices to a biting hook that brings to mind the Romany party music from across the Black Sea.

Track two, Yesli Basli Govel Ordek, is a sort of a lighter variation on the opening number, lit up with gracefully sliding electric guitar chords and clarinet sailing over the bristling underbrush. By contrast, Ic Benim Icin builds off a spiky, rapidfire Turkish folk theme over a lilting guitar groove with a few artfully overdubbed layers. Seni Kimler Ani goes in the opposite direction, a wary, wounded dirge with the kanun and then the baglama’s mournfully tremolo-picked lines front and center. From there, the band picks it up with the dynamically shifting Elfa Laila, itsbrapidfire, cascading, distantly Egyptian-tinged dance motives interspersed within a windswept twilight atmosphere.

Sevda Degil follows a delicately cautious, sad tangent, wistful clarinet sailing over lingering, enigmatic guitar, incisive baglama and icepick kanun. Track 7, Naz, blends ancient, ambered baglama/clarinet lines with sparsely resonant guitar and picks up with an uneasy, dancing energy as it goes on. The band return to the fast lane, with tons of lickety-split picking throughout the catchy Kumsalda Dans, with echoes of both Brazil and Russian Romany music.

The waltz Unutamadim is a lot slower, moody clarinet contrasting with all the machinegunning string licks blazing underneath. Mahur Saz Samaisi has the album’s trickiest tempos and also its most easygoing melody, although it goes in a decidedly darker direction as it picks up. Yalan Dunya gives the band a platform to spaciously build variations on a suspenseful, unresolved riff, then they take it skyward as they speed up. They wind up the album with the hard-hitting, Hicaz Mandira, blending elements of flamenco and dizzyingly rhythmic Macedonian folk. This isn’t Middle Eastern music that’s been watered down for American hippies: this is the real deal, state-of-the-art, straight from the source. For whatever degree of wildfire improvisation may be going on here – taksim means “jam” in several Middle Eastern languages – the Taksim Trio sound like what they’re doing is completely composed.

While the group made a quick New York trip this summer and then went back to Turkey, there are two New York acts with shows coming up that fans of intricate Middle Eastern music will love. You can go to both this Saturday night if you want: at 6 PM, soulful singer Jenny Luna’s Balkan-Turkish folk band Dolunay play the first night of their monthlong December residency at Barbes. Then at 8, six stops north on the G train, the Secret Trio – virtuoso kanun player Tamer Pinarbasi, clarinet titan Ismail Lumanovski and brilliant oudist Ara Dinkjian – play Roulette at 8. Tix for that one are $30 and considering how mesmerizing that band was at their most recent show at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, it’ll be worth it.

An Exhilarating and Elegaic Album by Oud Virtuoso/Singer Dhafer Youssef

Tunisian oudist/singer/composer Dhafer Youssef conceived his latest album Birds Requiem as a soundtrack for an imaginary film, a narrative about the transmigration of souls. And it could be – his long, pensively shapeshifting themes have a brooding, cinematic quality. They’re sort of a return to his roots: trained as a muezzin while still a child, he asserts himself vocally with a sometimes ecstatic, sometimes angst-ridden intensity over intricate arrangements that blend Middle Eastern and Western classical and jazz sounds, much in the same vein as the brilliant Lebanese-born composer Marcel Khalife.

The album – streaming at Spotify – begins with the somber, steady opening segment of a central suite with moody clarinet from Turkish great Husnu Senlendirici and resonant trumpet from Nils Petter Molvaer. The theme returns later as an ominous grey-sky tableau in the same vein as the Trio Joubran‘s more low-key work, slowly brightening with Kristjan Randalu’s rippling piano and Aytaç Dogan’s kanun. The next time it comes around, it’s a dance fueled by intertwining oud and piano harmonies. The dynamically-charged conclusion winds up the album on angst-ridden note with shivery clarinet and an imploring piano interlude.

Youssef’s achingly melismatic vocals establish that dynamic on the album’s second track, Sweet Blasphemy, over spacious oud and piano. Blending Souls & Shades rises from echoey atmospherics to a spine-tingling, full-gale vocal interlude and then a dancing horn passage before receding back to moodiness. Ascetic Mood is aptly austere and contemplative, a sad conversation between Phil Donkin’s bass, the clarinet and the oud.

Youssef’s elegy for his mother has a similar spaciousness and then grows more vigorous, Senlendirici’s haunting, resonant clarinet anchoring the piano’s rippling lines. 39th Gulay (In Istanbul) picks up the pace, a metal-flavored Middle Eastern art-rock song capped off by a rapidfire piano solo over the blast of the rest of the band as it winds out. Sevdah brings back the cinematics, rising out of a flamenco-inflected melody to a long, uneasily sustained crescendo and then back down again. Ascetic Journey follows a similar tangent, through a delicious series of variations from minimalist and elegaic to kinetically bouncing, the kanun rippling in tandem with Eivind Aarset’s guitar. There’s so much else going on here that it would take a small book to chronicle every highlight in this collection of magnificently haunting songs.

Istanbulive 2012: A Historic Night at Lincoln Center

Last night’s Turkish Woodstock, a.k.a. Istanbulive night at Lincoln Center Out of Doors was probably the closest in spirit to the original Woodstock, meteorologically speaking: with the rain, gently cool and comforting as it was, the sight of empty seats in Damrosch Park was surreal to the extreme. This year marked the fourth annual festival of Turkish music put together by Serdar Ilhan and Mehmet Dede, the brain trust behind Drom, the downtown world music mecca: as usual, the concert was brilliant, with a special historical significance. This show was especially notable for the American debut of legendary Turkish chanteuse and freedom fighter Selda Bagcan. It took her til age 64 to get here; she sang for almost two hours as the rain picked up and then abated, and got stronger as she went along. Dressed in her native Anatolian colors of red and white (and waving a Turkish flag during one song, to thunderous applause), she’d often sing a verse and then turn her mic to the crowd, or even let the audience open a song after a familiar intro. Known for her clever, satirical, politically-charged Turkish lyrics (which resulted in her imprisonment by the junta there in the early 80s), she frequently ad-libbed them to reference current events, which further energized the audience. Watching a circle of young people pushing their way to the front, linking hands in a circle, then spinning and bouncing to a psychedelic folk protest song that had to be at least 40 years old was heartwarming to the extreme: this kind of thing doesn’t happen in Bushwick, at least not in the trendy areas.

Much of the psychedelic rock that came out of the non-English speaking world during the 60s and 70s makes the American and British stuff seem sober and timid by comparison, often because the Peruvians, and Koreans, and Estonians and so forth used a broader sonic pallette. Bagcan was backed not only by electric guitar, keyboards and drums but also by saz (Turkish lute) as well as clarinetist Ismail Lumanovski and kanun virtuoso Tamer Pinarbasi, who comprised two-thirds of the evening’s extraordinary opening act, the Secret Trio. Microtones and overtones flew from the Turkish instruments as the rock band held the center, acoustic guitar and saz frequently blending together for an intoxicatingly, glimmering river of jangle and clang as the kanun flickered in the upper registers and Lumanovski added tersely plaintive washes of sound. With her minutely jeweled, muanced melismas, Bagcan sang like a woman forty years younger, as subtle as she was undeterred and defiant.

Yet a sense of longing pervaded much of what she and the band played. Big, sweeping anthems were bisected by quiet, tense interludes where the crowd quickly filled in the empty spaces with their voices. Hearing these many of these songs done as relatively straight-up, Pink Floyd-style art-rock was quite a change from the woozy textures (synths imitating a ney flute and tinny guitar without much sustain) of many of the original recordings. Bagcan has been called the “Turkish Piaf,” and there’s some truth in that considering her unwavering support for the working classes and her occasional penchant for drama: one of the evening’s best-received numbers was a torrent of lyrics, Istanbul cabaret style. As the end of the set neared, she and the band reached back for a more starkly acoustic, traditionally Middle Eastern flavored vibe, kanun and saz taking centerstage on an undulating, Egyptian-tinged anthem.

With grey skies overhead, the Secret Trio’s dark intricately pensive instrumentals set the tone perfectly and never let up through their abbreviated three-song set, Pinarbasi and Lumanovski’s lines grounded by oudist Ara Dinkjian’s terse countermelodies. Opening with the clarinet stark over a moody, neoromantic theme that could have been Ravel, or Morricone until an even darker detour into Arabic mode, they took it down even lower and more elegaically over a hypnotic web of prickly pointillisms. Then tenor saxophonist Ilhan Ersahin’s Wonderland treated the crowd to the most night’s most hypnotic moments, clarinetist Husnu Senlendirici spinning magical, ominously microtonal spirals in tandem with Ersahin over the ringing backdrop of Pinarbasi (who was doing triple duty tonight) and an electric rhythm section featuring a trance-inducing goblet drummer. Ersahin’s signature sound is swirling and dub-influenced: maybe because he and the band kept getting mixed signals about when they were supposed to wrap up their set (everybody seemed to be expecting a cataclysmic storm), there was a welcome edge and gypsy-flavored bite to the music along with the pulsing, shapeshifting atmospherics.