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Tag: Mehmet Polat Trio

An Intense, Mesmerizing New Album From the Mehmet Polat Trio

The Mehmet Polat Trio are one of the world’s most distinctive and cutting-edge groups in Middle Eastern and Turkish music. Their songs are epic and picturesque, incorporating elements of West African, Andalucian, Romany and Balkan sounds as well. Bandleader and oud virtuoso Polat can play with blazing speed if he wants, but he typically prefers a dynamically charged approach. His compositions have a cinematic sensibility that gets very dark on occasion. In this group he’s joined by kora player Dymphi Peeters and ney flutist Sinan Arat. Their show last summer at Lincoln Center was one of the most compelling concerts of the year; their latest album Ask Your Heart is streaming at Spotify.

This is deep, rich, impeccably crafted music that demands repeated listening. The opening epic, Untouched Stories, builds out of an enigmatic intro with echoes of Indian baul minstrelsy to a catchy, verdantly anthemic sway, It wouldn’t be out of place on an early 80s Pat Metheny album, but with organic production values. Arat’s balmy flute solo eventually gives way to Polat’s low, suspenseful oud solo over a syncopated strum, a high-spirited highway theme of sorts that calms as the rhythm drops out and segues into the second track, Dance It Out. Hazy ney over a hypnotically leaping, circular hook rises to a gently triumphant chorus, then a waterfalling kora solo and an unexpectedly insistent, enigmatic coda that Polat steers back toward the Levant. All this brings to mind the most energetic original work of fellow Turkish composer/oudist Omar Faruk Tekbilek.

The trio open Sandcastles as a pouncing, bristling, modal suspense theme with flamenco and Romany echoes, then the bandleader takes it into more pensive terrain with an insistent, minimalist solo, rising and falling. Neset quickly becomes even more insistent and imbued with longing, the kora at times supplying ripples akin to a kanun or santoor in Egyptian or Iraqi music while Polat essentially plays a bassline, ney wafting mournfully overhead.

Likewise, a muted, wounded sensibility pervades the beginning and end of Whispering to Waves, a brooding interweave of oud and kora falling away for a shimmering. crescemdoing kora solo and then desolate solo ney.

With its implied melody and pensively dancing syncopation, the album’s title track lives up to its name. Polat plays melismatic, sitar-like low-register lines, then guardedly picks up steam. Arat’s gentle rhythmic puffs add a hypnotic element.

Evening Prayer, with allusively heartbroken lyrics by Leyla Hamin and melody by Turkish oudist Kazanci Bedih, is more gently sprightly than you might expect. although the catchy tune grows more pensive as the band builds variations on it. A brooding solo by Arat bridges into the more anthemic and also much darker Everything iIs n You as it rises from the lows (Polat plays a custom-built oud with extra low register). His aching, angst-ridden solo midway through could be the high point of the album.

Serenity opens with stately, starry kora, but the band picks up the pace, taking it down into murkier depths via a syncopated take on a familiar Middle Eastern progression. The band double their dancing lines and then dig in hard in Simorgh, an altered waltz, hypnotic kora anchoring Polat’s pulsing solo. The album ends with Mardin, a lilting flute tune by Turkish oudist Ahmet Uzungol. Meticulous interplay, striking tunes and a fascinatingly unorthodox lineup of instruments make this one of the best albums of the year.

The Mehmet Polat Trio Play a Rapturous, Paradigm-Shifting Lincoln Center Debut

Watching the Mehmet Polat Trio in their Lincoln Center debut last night, what became formidably clear was that these are three of the best musicians in the world on their respective instruments. But not only do oudist and bandleader Polat, ngoni player Victor Sams and ney flutist Pelin Başar push the envelope as far as Middle Eastern and African music go, they do it with gravitas, and virtuosity, and soul, and made good on Polat’s promise to draw the audience into their magical interchanges and improvisations, holding what appeared to be a full house in a near dream-state for over an hour.

Polat’s erudition, drawing on years of study of not only Middle Eastern but also Balkan, Mediterranean, Indian and African traditions, expressed itself strikingly in terms of breathtaking technique as well as his vast and searching expanse of melodic ideas. Now based in Amsterdam, Polat hails originally from the Turkish city of Urfa, located close to the Syrian border, legendary as a pilgrimage spot for Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. Much mysticism is associated with the region, and that came across in the more rapturous, enveloping, carefully crafted numbers that Polat played, particularly a couple of slowly crescendoing duo pieces with Sams that blended the hypnotic, circular quality of West African folk music with the brooding, contemplative side of the Middle East.

Bantering gently with the crowd between songs, Polat’s stage presence was humble yet proud. His chops on the oud are spectacular, and his fellow oudists had come to check him out, something Polat was quick to pick up on. His often dazzling speed and ability to evoke the most minute timbral shifts out of his custom-made instrument may have something to do with genetic good fortune- he appears to be doublejointed. And he loves the lows: his axe features a couple of extra low bass strings, which he sprinted down to early in the set to drive that feature home. But ultimately, the additional low end enables Polat to employ the standard low strings  for melodic spirals and flurries that most of his peers typically play further up the scale.

Sams made a strong and similarly individualistic sparring partner, taking his spiky calabash harp to places it’s never gone before, shifting into as many somber, stately Levantine-tinged interludes, tersely minimalst riffs that edged toward Steve Reich territory, and sprightly coy high harmonic accents, as he did the cyclical, trancey patterns typical of the instrument’s usual repertoire. Başar played even more judiciously, and arguably even more hauntingly, mostly in her lower ranges, spiced with minutely intoned melismas and precise patterns that mirrored Polat’s picking.

Together, the three moved seamlessly through slinky, moody, dusky grooves as the beat shifted from a camelwalking sway toward the mystical spirals of qawwali music. Polat showed off as much affinity for the highs as the lows, particularly during a couple of numbers where he built ecstatic crescendos using riffs straight out of the classical Indian sitar playbook. Polat and his trio return to New York for an unlikely gig at Club Bonafide on September 11; cover is $20.

And the Atrium at Lincoln Center continues its eclectic series of concerts. As Jordana Phokompe, its programming director, smilingly asserted before the concert, there’s literally something for everyone here. Fans of Prince can see Burnt Sugar play the Purple Rain songbook on August 25 at 7:30 PM. And high-voltage, socially relevant psychedelic cumbia band MAKU Soundsystem are here at the same time on September 22. Seats get take quickly for these free shows, so early arrival is always a good idea.