New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: turkish music

A Mesmerizing, Haunting, Potently Relevant New Album From Turkish Singer Olcay Bayir

In March of last year, singer Olcay Bayir and her band were two days away from leaving on a tour – sponsored by the British government, no less. Then the lockdown crushed the performing arts in almost every country around the world.

In the days since, Bayir has not been idle. She made a name for herself with a rapturously beautiful album of traditional Turkish music back in 2015. Her new ep, Inside (İçerde) is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a showcase for her increasingly remarkable ability to shift gears stylistically, but at the same time it’s a portrait of anguish and frustration.

Conventional wisdom is that working over the web is seamlessly efficient, but in reality the reverse is true. Issues that could be ironed out in the company of musicians onstage or in the studio take hours or even days when they’re separated by continents. Which makes this achievement all the more impressive, considering how much adversity Bayir and her global supporting cast had to tackle.

The first track is Asude (At Peace), her voice wounded and imploring. She sings in Turkish: the last line of the chorus is “My last words are for you, but I can’t say them.” Behind her, guitarist Ignacio Lusardi Monteverde and bağlama player Huseyin Murat Sığırcı build flamenco intensity over Memed Mert Baycan’s percussion.

Track two, Ela is completely different, an echoey, psychedelic art-rock collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Deniz Mahir Kartal, based on a love poem by iconic medieval Turkish bard Karacaoğlan. Bayir really reaches for the rafters here.

The album’s third song, Yalnizlik (Loneliness) is a somewhat more organic but equally dramatic strain of art-rock. Serdar Barçın – of Turkish psychedelic legends Yeni Turku – contributes pensively circling ney flute over a steady background from pianist Christian Prior, bassist Tom McCredie and percussionist Kostas Kopanaris.

The final cut is the key to the record. In Kayip Cocuk (Lost Child), Bayir draws the connection between the horrors of children orphaned by war, and the pandemic of child abuse that followed in the wake of the lockdown. She doesn’t address this head-on, but it’s going to take an enormous amount of therapy and compassion to heal the trauma of an entire generation who were terrorized into believing that proximity to other people is deadly.. Erdi Arslan’s moody düdük filters through Alistair MacSween’s tersely atmospheric keys as Bayir rises from gentle consolation to full-blown anguish. It’s an anthem for our time – and this is one of the best short albums of the year.

Lingering, Grey-Sky Turkish Psychedelia and Spacerock From Minor Empire

Minor Empire play a spare, psychedelic, electric rock take on Turkish music with occasional echoes of jazz. Their slowly unwinding songs tend to be on the overcast side. Their album Uprooted is streaming at Spotify – and there’s a very useful English ltranslation at the group’s lyric page.

The album’s first track, Istanbul dan Uskudar a Yol Gid, begins with a hypnotically pinwheeling baglama riff. From there the band ease their way into a slow, moody, chromatic sway behind Ozan Boz’s lingering electric guitar, frontwoman Ozgu Ozman’s voice wafting gently over a tricky, insistent rhythm from Chris Gartner on bass and Ben Riley on ominous, boomy drums.

Mendilimin Yesil is a spacious mashup of psychedelic rock and jazz, with Lina Allemano’s lingering trumpet, staccato wah-wah guitar and Ozman’s delicately ornamented, melismatic vocals. Gunes Turkusu builds from simmering layers of guitar, through drifting spacerock to a snarling coda, and then comes full circle. If U2 were Turkish (and had a good singer), Yutsuz, with its elegant bass descending to downtuned murk, could be an atmospheric tune from Tıkırtı ve Vızıltı (that’s Rattle and Hum in Turkish).

Awash in rising and falling pings, pulses, resonant guitars and chiming baglama, Ag Elime Mor Kinalar Yaktiar brings to mind Australian spacerock legends the Church. Ozman’s voice rises more insistently in Iki Kekik, one of the album’s more minimal numbers. At the end of Dunya, a hypnotically crescendoing instrumental, the guitar finally hits a mighty, surfy clang: it was worth the wait!

They follow that with Tohum, a brief, allusively anthemic tableau, and stay in moody, atmospheric mode with Bahar. The mini-suite concludes with the echoey wave motion of Babam.

With its web of kaleidoscopic textures, Selanik Turkusu is arguably the album’s trippiest and most enigmatic number. The starry, atmospheric Uyuttum Atlari has tinges of Asian folk music. The group wind up the record with Tutari Yar Elindem, the guitars taking over after Ozman’s finished with a circling, pensive theme. Turkish psychedelia has a long and rich history and this album is a welcome addition.

Looking Back at Olcay Bayir’s Plaintive Reinventions of Silk Road Songs

Turkish singer Olcay Bayir put out her poignantly energetic album Neva/Harmony – streaming at Spotify  in 2014. It’s songs of the silk road, essentially. Much of the music is from Anatolia, the country’s easternmost region, alongside traditional material from across the surrounding area. Improvisation is such a big part of music from this part of the world that every interpretation is bound to be different; Bayir’s own style is informed by her training as a western classical singer. Her band is just as multicultural as the music; it’s less rustic than you might expect.

The opening number, Jarnana is an Albanian love song with an upbeat sway and a catchy, vamping minor-key tune, Aurel Qirjo’s incisive violin over a pretty straight-up rock groove from bassist George Tsiaousidis and percussionist Elizabeth Nott. Bayir’s plaintive vocals soar over tricky Greek rhythms with biting harmonies from the violin and Nicki Maher’s clarinet in the second track, Mia Smyrnia Sto Parathiri.

Bayir’s vocals on Mer Dan, a slowly waltzing Aremenian dirge, are much the same, clarinet and violin wafting broodingly through the mix, Erdal Yapıcı supplying an elegantly rippling solo on his ten-string kopuz lute. Maher’s low, melismatic, Arabic-tinged clarinet in the bouncy, Romany-flavored Benim Yarim is breathtaking, Likewise, Min Bêriya Te Kiriye has a brisk, almost reggae groove lit up with Meg Hamilton’s stark violin and a spiky web of textures from Yapıcı and classical guitarist Charlie Cawood.

Durme, a moody Sephardic lullaby, has rippling classical guitar, Yapıcı’s eerie fretless guitar and an aptly tender vocal by Bayir: in this part of the world, moms sing to their kids in minor keys and it’s not considered scary. The album’s big, hypnotic, nocturnal epic is Melamet Hırkas. Clarinet and violin loom over a starry, loopy backdrop from the kopuz, guitar and Erdogan Bayir’s baglama, minging with the frontwoman’s gentle, resonant delivery.

Qirjo’s somber taqsim to open Penceresi Yola Karşı doesn’t hint at the scampering energy this Balkan dance tune will hit just a few seconds later, lit up with Maher’s joyous klezmer inflections, They close the record with Lay Lay, a somber Kurdish waltz with more of those gorgeously tremoloing clarinet-violin lines that permeate this gorgeous record.

Neotolia Take Haunting Turkish Sounds to New Places

Neotolia’s album Neotolian Song – streaming at Spotify – made the best albums of 2017 page here – and is long overdue for a more comprehensive look. No time like the present to catch up on great albums you might have missed over the years, right? It’s a distinctive mix of broodingly diverse Turkish themes for jazz orchestration; piano, oud, guitar, vocals and rhythm section, spiced with flute and haunting Chinese erhu fiddle.

Frontwoman Nazan Nihal intones an imploring Turkish lyric over menacing, Lynchian minor/major changes from pianist Utar Artun in the album’s opening track, Bir Barmis Bir Yokmu, up to a big crescendo interrupted by a bracingly spiraling Jussi Reijonen oud solo. They end it on a raptly mysterious note. What a way to kick off the record.

The Thrill of the Chase is completely different, beginning a funhouse-mirror take on a Yoruban chant, Reijonen’s circling, hypnotic oud contrasting with Artun’s stern jazz chords, a thumping, tumbling drum solo and a raspy improvisational interlude where everything disintegrates.

Reijonen switches to guitar for the elegantly swaying, syncopated anti-terrorism ballad Degismek Cesaret Ister, the flute reaching upward as Nihal leads the fiery, insistent vocal harmonies up to the chorus. The title track begins as a rather opaque jazz ballad, then Artun brings back the crepuscular Lynchian changes, a springboard for an uneasy intertwine of Tao He’s stark erhu and Yazhi Guo’s trilling flute.

The group follow the increasingly angst-fueled piano-and-vocal ballad Manastir Terkes with a suspiciously deadpan tropical jazz take on Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca – it’s nothing like the wry Brubeck version. Artun’s piano glitters broodingly and then reaches for Rachmaninovian majesty in contrast with a plaintive erhu solo in Gel Kuruttum, then they back away for Nihal’s tender, achingly chromatic vocal.

Pendulum is a moodily existentialist violin-driven jazz waltz, the lone tune here in English. Nihal returns to Turkish for the lilting ballad Lydianic, with a deliciously dusky Bruno Råberg bass solo that Reijonen follows with a surreal ebow guitar interlude. They close the album with Depmen Benim Gamli Yasli Gonlume, an energetically pulsing, syncopated, Egyptian-tinged anthem, Reijonen swooping and diving microtonally on fretless guitar over Artun’s eerie close harmonies.

Cypriot Psychedelic Mastermind Perseveres With a New Solo Album

Of all the parts of the world where the lockdowner takeover has been the most sadistic, Cyprus has suffered as greatly as any nation outside of Communist China or Australia. As you would expect, multi-instrumentalist Antonis Antoniou‘s two psychedelic bands – Trio Tekke and Monsieur Doumani – have been put on ice until his home turf is liberated. In the meantime, he hasn’t stopped making music. His new solo album Kkismettin – streaming at Spotify – has the same edgy, chromatically-fueled drive and trippy textures as his full-band work, drawing on influences as diverse as classic Greek psychedelic rock, music from across the Balkans, and old rembetiko hash-smoking and revolutionary anthems. Here, he’s a one-man psychedelic band on lute, bass, keys and percussion.

In the opening track, Livarin, an electric lute melody rings out amid woozy synth multitracks and a mix of electronic and organic beats, some of which which Antoniou plays on the metal trashcans used as barriers on his native island (oldschool pre-lockdown divide-and-conquer mechanism).

The second tune, Ttappa Kato, has a deliciously loopy, shiveringly slinky chromatic bounce. The album’s title track has a whispery, conspiratorial ambience, built around a thicket of percussion, tremoloing bass and wah-wah textures.

Angali, an instrumental, has a loopy cheer and a sonic artichoke of dubwise layers. Antoniou picks up the pace with the ridiculously anthemic Ksimeroman, which brings to mind King Gizzard at their trippiest and most Turkish-influenced.

Gritty, jagged riffs pierce the echoey, ominously loopy atmosphere in the next track, Baris as Antoniou makes a big anthem out of it. Doulia has a groove that undulates somewhere between rai and cumbia, along with allusively chromatic hammer-on lute riffage. The swirl and boom hit a psychedelic peak in Varella, followed by Djinorkes Meres, the starkest and most distinctly rembetiko-ish number here.

Antoniou winds up the record with Achtina, his darkly twangy, incisive electric lute awash in dense atmospherics. This isn’t just for fans of Aegean music: if psychedelic rock, Balkan or Middle Eastern music is your jam, crank this strange and surreal mix. May we all be able to find inspiration and hope for the future in the darkest of times just as Antoniou has here.

Another Gorgeous, Mesmerizing Middle Eastern Rock Record From King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard might be the most prolific psychedelic band in the world. Over the past several years they’ve released more albums than just about anyone other than Satoko Fujii or the Pocket Gods. Their epic double live album Chunky Shrapnel ranked high on the Best Albums of 2020 page here; their latest, simply titled L.W. is streaming at Bandcamp and might be even better.

From the first few crashing notes of the opening number, If Not Now, Then When? it’s clear that this is going to be one of their gorgeously uneasy Turkish-influenced records, a theme and variations: a Turkish rock symphony of sorts. Frontman Stu Mackenzie’s guitar and Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s blippy keys mingle in a microtonal Near Eastern mode over the disco-ish strut of bassist Lucas Harwood and drummer Michael Cavanagh.

With its oudlike melismas, track two, O.N.E. is where all the guitarists, including Cook Craig and Joey Walker join the slinky snakecharmer mix. With all the guitars hitting the baglama-like chromatic riffs of Pleura, the intensity grows while the rhythms get trickier.

Supreme Ascendancy has spikier, harplike textures, swirly organ and even an even more bracing microtonal edge. Incisive acoustic riffs, echoey electric washes and a little acidic Turkish zurna oboe permeate the mellotron drift of Static Electricity, arguably the album’s best and doomiest track. East West Link makes a good segue: it’s sort of the radio edit, with a buzzing, burning guitar/zurna duel over Cavanagh’s clip-clop beat.

They bring more of a fuzztone garage rock attack to the hypnotic Ataraxia. Rippling, kanun-like keys take centerstage in See Me, Harwood’s tense hammer-ons fueling the big crescendo. The band close with a track they call K.G.L.W., a serious epic where they bring everything full circle in their heaviest attack. These lizard kings have made more good albums over the years than just about anybody and this is one of their very best.

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.

A Small Gathering for Haunting Turkish Music at Barbes

Last Thursday night at Barbes, the bar was pretty deserted. There were two people in the audience for Dolunay‘s practically ninety-minute set of haunting, slinky Turkish songs. One of the two used to book music at a now-defunct Williamsburg venue. The other was darkly distinctive photographer Galina Kurlat, who started working at that same venue when she was still in college, having her first gallery shows, and refining the broodingly rustic tintype technique that would eventually earn her acclaim.

Kurlat’s significant other is Adam Good, who plays oud in Dolunay, as well as with many other electrifying New York Balkan and Middle Eastern acts. Dolunay’s set began slowly and elegantly, frontwoman Jenny Luna holding down a steady, boomy clip-clop beat on her dumbek goblet drum as Good and violinist Eylem Basaldi ornamented the songs’ plaintive, minor modes with bracing, often ominous microtonal accents. Sometimes they’d exchange riffs; other times, on the simpler, more Macedonian or Greek-tinged songs, they’d play twin leads while Luna’s voice soared from suspenseful lows to a poignant, similarly melismatic intensity.

Luna typically likes to play sets of three songs; this time, tunes appeared in pairs. Good switched to the tinny, jangly tambura lute for one Bulgarian-flavored number where Luna and Basaldi harmonized eerily – who knew that Basaldi had such a fantastic, similarly poignant voice?

When the show hit a more suspenseful lull, Luna switched to the more muted frame drum, then the group brought the relentless, haunting intensity back. When not singing in Turkish, the trio joked grimly about the future, to the point of speculating that this could be their last gig – or last Barbes gig, anyway. At this point in time, we can still be optimistic and expect them to be back at this recently shuttered treasure of a venue, at their next scheduled gig there this coming summer. At the moment, there’s beeen some scuttlebutt about temporarily repurposing the club as a rehearsal space.

Haunting, High-Voltage Balkan and Middle Eastern Sounds from Oud Mastermind Mehmet Polat

One of the most richly dynamic albums of recent months is Mehmet Polat‘s Quantum Leap, with his eclectic band Embracing Colours. The oud virtuoso and composer’s latest releas, a mix of influences from Andalucia to the Balkans and the Middle East is streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, Expanded Lives, is stunningly intense, a wounded minor-key anthem that builds to a long, flamenco-tinged, flurrying crescendo from the bandleader. Accordionist Bart Lelivelt joins the dance as it reaches a peak, then the rhythm section – bassist Hendrik Müller and drummer Joan Terol Amigo – pull the song back to more elegant drama.

They don’t waste a second to segue into Dancing Statues, a suspenseful accordion-bass conversation setting off a fiery, pulsingly insistent Balkan dance with a deliciously edgy, chromatic accordion solo, with the bandleader adding his own scampering, misterioso lines. Playing the Time Away is more pensive, with a series of carefree oud/accordion exchanges.

The band stay in animated dance mode with the tricky metrics of Falseta Mesopotámica, Polat firing off a percussively incisive solo, singer Ciğdem Okuyucu adding her spacious, ripely melismatic voice to the mix. They follow with Segue – good as that joke is, this bridge is a particularly interesting one, shifting from a kinetic scramble to a wary, brooding bowed bass solo, picking up with renewed intensity and eventually coming full circle.

Trumpeter Eric Vloeimans’ airy microtones join with the accordion to introduce the slow, stately, Palestinian-inflected anthem All Connected: with the trumpet moving into stark blues, it could be the album’s most hauntingly gorgeous track.

The aptly titled, saturnine Breathing Again is another stunner, Polat’s allusively chilling, spacious solo giving way to Imamyar Hasanov’s plaintive, imploring kamancheh fiddle. The quote at the end is too good to give away: let’s say it’s a happy ending appropriate for the current political climate.

The band follow Polat’s steady, sternly catchy solo piece Conveyed Emotions with Contemplation, a big, powerful, serpentine, Balkan-spiced showstopper. Then Polat and Müller edge their way into the shapeshifting Entropy – with the exchanges between Polat’s soaring vocals and Michalis Kouloumis’ stark violin, it’s the closest thing to current-day, electric Black Sea jazz here.

Lelivelt’s portentous accordion taqsim kicks off A Deserved Distraction – it seems designed as a welcome, pedal-to-the-metal diversion in the wake of so much haunting intensity. The group close with Aftermath, a grimly beautiful tableau that wouldn’t be out of place in the Mohammed Abdel Wahab catalog: Polat’s insistent, minimalist solo is impossible to turn away from. What a breathtaking record.

Polat’s next concert is on January 31 at the Lutherkirche Sudstat, Martin-Luther-Platz 4 in
Cologne, Germany.

The Ava Trio Jam Out Slinky, Gorgeously Overcast Middle Eastern-Tinged Themes

Baritone sax, bass and drums – just the idea of two low-register instruments with a beat is enticingly mysterious. That was Moisturizer’s lineup, Morphine’s too. The Ava Trio – baritone saxophonist Giuseppe Doronzo, bassist Esat Ekincioglu and percussionist Pino Basile – extrapolate dusky, often haunting Middle Eastern-tinged themes with them. Some of their album Digging the Sand– streaming at Bandcamp – reminds of Matt Darriau’s Paradox Trio, elsewhere the extraordinary Brooklyn maqam jazz group Ensemble Fanaa

The album’s opening number, Cala Dei Turchi, brings to mind Morphine in a particularly brooding moment, although Doronzo’s tone is more balmy than Scott Colley’s smoky, often jabbing attack. Basile gives it a slow, sober sway with spare, hypnotic accnts on his bedir frame drum while sax and bass hint at and finally go deep into a haunting Turkish-flavored theme with a surprise ending.

How hopeful is Espero? The group kick it off with a punchy, syncopated, Romany-flavored tune, diverge and then return with more of a clenched-teeth, uneasily circling focus. Rising from airy washes to a warmly exploratory solo sax interlude, the trio shift back and forth between a bubbly, loopy groove and more unsettled terrain in the epic Fadiouth.

The album’s title track begins with a couple of explosions and drony, scrapy bass, Basile’s cupaphon friction drum enhancing the stygian ambience, Doronzo choosing his spots for moody, distantly Ethiopian-tinged melody. Ekincioglu opens Tosun Kacti with a low, warpy solo before the band leap into a cheery Balkan circle dance of sorts bookending variations on a mournful, marching interlude.

Doronzo’s masterful midrange melismas take centerstage in the increasingly intense, bouncy Balkan-flavored Ayi Havasi. They stay in the same vein with a terse plaintiveness throughout the slightly more subdued Anamoni and close the record with the lively, dynamically shifting, deliciously catchy Distanze, Doronzo switching between sax and keening, bagpipe-like mizmār oboe for the jajouka-influenced bridge. Whether you call this jazz, Balkan or Middle Eastern music – it’s really all of the above – it’s one of the most delightful albums of recent months.