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Tag: turkish music

A Harrowing, Ferociously Relevant Mother-Daughter Conflict at the French Institute

While there’s nonstop drama and some actual physical violence in Nazmiye and Havva Oral’s No Longer Without You, a searing mother-daughter conflict currently in its US debut run at the French Institute/Alliance Française, its most serious fireworks are only alluded to. We don’t get more than a mention of the abortion, or passing references to the screaming matches and literal tug-of-war between religious Muslim mother and her willful daughter determined to escape the confines of what she feels is an antedeluvian, misogynist environment.

On a surface level, this is a feel-good story of female empowerment and triumph over adversity. A Turkish immigrant in Holland, Havva raises her Nazmiye with an iron fist in a strict religious household. Nazmiye’s father dies young and doesn’t figure much in this story: it’s clear who runs the show in this family. But Nazmiye doesn’t want an arranged marriage at age eighteen and a life of domesticity like her mom. So she leaves home, marries a foreigner, has a couple of daughters of her own, divorces and becomes a world-famous journalist and performer along the way. What’s not to be proud of?

Havva doesn’t exactly see it that way. In this performance piece, she’s less volubly critical than Nazmiye recalls, dredging up one childhood battle after another. And she’s withholding. What Nazmiye wants most is her mother’s love. In the piece’s most touching scene, Nazmiye recalls that despite the disputes and the terror of being dragged off by a teenage husband-to-be whom she doesn’t even like, the one place she feels secure is in her mother’s arms. And time after time, Havva keeps her at arms length.

Yet Havva is also anything but an ogre. Her traditional garb makes a stark contrast with her daughter’s scarlet dress. She’s calm, stolid, unassailably confident and someone who says a lot in a few aphoristic words. And she’s funny! As the piece progresses, it’s clear that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, two indomitable women, each with big dreams. Daughter speaks in English, mother answers in Turkish, usually translated by Seval Okyay, who also provides gorgeous, haunting musical interludes with electric saz lute and a soulful, often plaintive voice. If there’s anything this performance could use more of, it’s Okyay.

While the cultural idiom here is specifically Muslim, the story is an all-too-familiar one: escapees from militant Christian and Orthodox Jewish environments tell the same tale. Beyond the breaking of one taboo after another – where Havva seems genuinely worried for her daughter’s soul, not to mention her own – the most shocking moment of all might be where Nazmiye asks what right a mother has to live vicariously through her daughter. Havva asserts that it’s perfectly kosher for a child to be the vehicle for a parent’s aspirations – or dashed hopes, perhaps. It’s another familiar dynamic. Obsessive Colorado pageant moms, psycho Texas football dads and harried Park Slope helicopter parents would find themselves more at home in Nazmiye’s childhood environment than they might think.

More poignantly, there are several “do you love me” moments: the answer may surprise you, like the ending, which is anything other than pat. But the one question that Nazmiye never asks, after all she’s accomplished, is “Are you proud of me?” One suspects the response would be more predictable.

Adelheid Roosen’s direction is everything the relationship isn’t: comfortable and familial, the audience seated on comfy cushions around the floor, living room style. There is also a little interaction with the audience, which is similarly welcoming and comforting and a serendipitous respite from the intensity of the performance. The final show today is sold out, but the Institute’s long-running events and concert schedule, including their legendary film series continues through the fall. 

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Turkish Star Halil Sezai’s Brooding Revolutionary Ballads Haunt the Crowd at Drom

Saturday night at Drom, Turkish crooner Halil Sezai eventually got the crowd singing along. But he didn’t do it with flag-waving Eurovision-style stadium cliches. He did it with a carefully crafted set of allusive, slow-to-midtempo ballads about revolution and the relentless stress of life in a police state, in styles ranging from moody parlor pop, to methodically crescenddoing anthems awash in minor keys, with microtonally-infused fills and solos delivered by his absolutely brilliant clarinetist. To call this music for our time is an understatement to the extreme.

Sezai sat for the duration of the show, which made sense considering that he doesn’t overemote. Although he’d build to long, resonant phrases to cap off a chorus, he sang with remarkable restraint, always seemingly holding something in reserve. Although he doesn’t have a particularly low voice, he didn’t fly up the scale, remaining grounded in his upper midrange.

Likewise, his band had a nuance matched by few rock bands – although Turkish rock tends to be more informed by classical and Turkish traditional music – or in its loudest moments, European metal – than it is by comparatively simple American pop. About three songs into the set, all of a sudden a tersely swaying drumbeat entered the picture. As it turned out, the drummer had been there all along, but up to that point he’d just been adding just the ghostliest flickers of a cymbal or a rimshot.

An acoustic rhythm guitarist held a steady, emphatic forward drive while the group’s superb, eclectic pianist ranged from stately, angst-fueled neoromantic lines to a few detours toward early 80s jazz when the clarinetist switched to alto sax. The bassist would often open a song with judiciously fingerpicked acoustic guitar leads, then in a flash would put down the guitar and then hold down the lows on his four strings. The clarinetist’s volleys of tremoloing, deep-woods mystery and sometimes the macabre contrasted with the low-key sonics behind him. Botanica, and Firewater, and maybe Procol Harum came to mind, but with less emotive vocals than any of those art-rock bands.

Besides being New York’s most welcomingly intimate venue for sounds from around the globe, Drom is one of the few American clubs to regularly book Turkish rock music. There are two fantastic, very different bands there tomorrow night, Sept 30: at at 8 PM, wild accordion-driven Chilean psychedelic band Pascuala Ilabaca y Fauna are the latest stars from outside the country to make their US debut here: $15 adv tix are highly recommended. Then at 11:30 PM there’s a free show by excellent Queens rebetiko band Rebet Asker, playing dark Greek gangster and hash-smoking anthems from the 20s through the 40s.

Wild Balkan Band Tipsy Oxcart Bring Their Intensity to a Free Upper West Side Park Gig

Rule of thumb is that if a band is reasonably competent in daylight, they’re probably great after the sun goes down. Considering how wild Tipsy Oxcart can get at night, it was no surprise to see them kick out the jams last week at Madison Square Park despite taking the stage just after noon The fiery Balkan and Middle Eastern band have squeezed their way onto the summer parks concert circuit, and they’re doing that again this Wednesday, August 9 at 1 PM at the triangle at 66th and Broadway.

Their opening number was epic. Tricky syncopation, slashing chromatic edges, shifts into halfspeed, doublespeed, a tongue-in-cheek couple of reggae interludes and finally nto oldschool 70s disco were most of but not all of the picture. A big slowdown was punctuated by a feral, whirling Connell Thompson clarinet solo, the rampaging outro by a blistering  guitar solo.

Their second number had a flamenco-tinged pulse: the band ran its anthemically stairstepping hook up to a chilling, icy guitar solo played through a chorus pedal. Then the band switched up the rhythm artfully on the way out. They completely flipped the script with a slow, mournful Turkish-flavored number lowlit by the clarinet until the guitar and drums conspired to take it doublespeed just like the first song. By now, the park was full of black women pushing strollers full of white yuppie children; everybody danced as bassist Ayal Tsubery took a slinky snakecharmer solo that mimicked the blue notes of Thompson’s horn riffs.

The band hardly looked or sounded tired, but there was only so much showmanship they could indulge in: foot up on the monitor, looking mean, was about it. That was a far cry from their pre-album release show at Barbes right before Golden Fest, when Thompson and then accordionist Jeremy Bloom basically bumrushed the crowd: that was intense!

Microtonal trills from the clarinet, a bubbling-crude bass solo from Tsubery, more clever shifts between disco, funk and the Middle East from the drummer and  acidic atmospherics contrasting with blazing minor-key riffage from the accordion dominated the rest of the show. At least until the guitarist would take one of several feral machete-through-the-ganja-field chord-chopping solos. The only thing an onlooker could have possibly wished for was more volume, but there’s a legal limit to how much of that you can get in a public park when night shift people – if any still exist in the Flatiron District – are still asleep.

t the show up by Lincoln Center, the buildings are a lot closer to the little park, meaning more of an echo effect. If you’re in the area, it’s more fun than anything else you could probably do  on your lunch break. Is this blog going to be represented there? No. If you’re going to play hooky from work, you have to choose your spots.

Which makes the Madison Square Park series so tempting. They also have free evening shows there this month; the next one is jazz alto sax great Kenny Garrett, who’s there with his group on the 9th at 8:30 PM.

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.

Saturday Night at Golden Fest: Best Concert of 2017, Hands Down

Game plan for last night’s big blowout at this year’s Golden Fest was to see as many unfamiliar bands as possible. That wasn’t difficult, considering that there were more than sixty Balkan and Balkan-influenced acts playing five different spaces in about eight hours at Brooklyn’s magnificent Grand Prospect Hall. The way things turned out, it was fun to catch a few familiar favorites among a grand total of fifteen different groups. Consider: when the swaying chandelier hanging over Raya Brass Band looks like it could crash on top of them at any second, and sax player Greg Squared has launched into one of his signature, supersonic volleys of microtones and chromatics, and singer Brenna MacCrimmon is belting at full throttle over a machinegunning beat, there’s no resisting that. You just join the line of dancers, or step back, take a hit of tequila  – or whatever your poison is, this is a party – and thank the random chance that you’re alive to see this.

If you’re hell-bent on being a counterintuitive concertgoer, you can kick off the evening not with the fiery brass music that the festival is best known for, but with something along the lines of the brooding Romany and klezmer guitar folk of charismatic singer Zhenya Lopatnik’s four-piece acoustic band, Zapekanka. Their set of Romany laments, drinking songs, and a folk tune that foreshadowed Django Reinhardt turned out to be a lot more bittersweet than the Russian cheesecake whose name they’ve appropriated.

It was good to get a chance to see Niva – kaval player Bridget Robbins, tamburists Corinna Snyder and Kristina Vaskys and tapan drummer Emily Geller – since they don’t play out as much as they used to, considering their members are busy with other projects. This was a recurrent theme throughout the festival. A straw poll of informed participants picked percussionist Jerry Kisslinger as king of the night, so to speak: he was scheduled to play with seven different groups, jams not included. He wasn’t part of this band. The quartet joined voices for about a half an hour of ethereal close harmonies over hypnotically circling rhythms, a mix of Macedonian dances and tunes from just over the Bulgarian border, even more lavishly ornamented with bristling microtones. Meanwhile, the circle of dancers in the upstairs Rainbow Room – much smaller than the venue’s magnificent ballroom – had packed the space to almost capacity.

Driven by Gyorgy Kalan’s austerely cavorting, rustically ornamented fiddle, the trio Fenyes Banda kept the dancers going with a mix of Hungarian and Transylvanian numbers. As raw and bucolic (yet at the same time very musically sophisticated) as that group was, it’s hard to think of an ensemble on the bill more evocative of a get-together in a village square in some distant century than Ta Aidhonia. The mixed choir harmonized in a somewhat subdued, stately set of Thracian dances, backed only by bagpipe and standup drum. The dancers didn’t quite to know what to make of this in the early going, but by a couple of songs in they were back out on the floor.

By half past eight, it was finally time to make a move downstairs for the mighty Kavala, who played a considerably more contemporary update on late 20th century Macedonian brass music, propelled by electric bass and drums. Trubas bubbled and blazed through fiery chromatic changes until finally, practically at the end of the set, star tenor sax player Lefteris Bournias took one of his signature, wildfire, shivery solos. Back upstairs, Ornamatik took a similarly electric sound further into the 21st century, the music’s fat low end anchored by nimble five-string bassist Ben Roston and frontwoman/trombonist Bethanni Grecynski. Their slinky, shapeshifting originals brought to mind Brooklynites Tipsy Oxcart (who were also on the bill, and deserve a shout for their incendiary, stomping set of mostly new material at Barbes Thursday night).

While the Roma Stars entertained the dancers in the big ballroom with woozy P-Funk synth in addition to the brass, ageless Armenian-American jazz sage Souren Baronian held the Rainbow Room crowd rapt. The octogenarian reedman’s most mesmerizing moment came during a long, undulating modal vamp where he took his clarinet and opened the floodgates of a somberly simmering river of low-register, uneasily warping microtones. And then suddenly lept out of it with a hilariously surreal quote – and the band behind him hit the chorus head-on without missing a beat. As far as dynamics and judiciously placed ideas and unselfconscious soul go, it would be unfair to expect other musicians to channel such a depth of feeling.

Although two of the acts afterward, Eva Salina and Peter Stan, and tar lute player Amir Vahab’s quartet, came awfully close. While his singer bandmate reached gracefully for angst and longing and also unrestrained joy, Stan was his usual virtuoso self. At one point, the accordionist was playing big chords, a rapidfire, slithery melody and a catchy bassline all at the same time. Was he using a loop pedal? No. It was all live. That’s how the duo are recording their forthcoming studio album, reason alone to look forward to it. Vahab’s wary, panoramic take on classic Persian and Turkish sufi themes, and his gracefully intense volleys of notes over twin percussion and otherworldly, rippling kanun, continued to the hold the crowd spellbound

By this time in the evening, many of the dancers had migrated to an even higher floor for the blazing, often completely unhinged and highly improvisational South Serbian sounds of the Novi Hitovi Brass Band. By contrast, Boston’s Cocek! Brass Band rose to the challenge of following Raya Brass Band’s volcanic set with a precise, wickedly intricate performance of their own all-original material, complete with their shoutalong theme song to close on a high note. Trumpeter/bandleader Sam Dechenne’s command of microtones and moody Balkan modes matched Greg Squared’s devastating displays of technique, if in a somewhat more low-key vein.

Hanging in the smaller rooms for most of the night while the biggest names on the bill – organizers Zlatne Uste and trumpeter Frank London’s klezmer ensemble on the top end – entertained a packed house in the ballroom, reached a haunting peak with  a vivid, hauntingly serpentine, all-too-brief set of Syrian exile anthems and lost-love ballads by levantine ensemble Zikrayat. Frontman/violinist Sami Abu Shumays led the group through this alternately poignant and biting material, the night’s furthest divergence from the Balkans into the Middle East, with his usual sardonic sense of humor and acerbic chops.

Finally, at almost two in the morning, it was time to head down to the main floor for the night’s pounding coda, from the night’s most epic act, massive street band What Cheer? Brigade. At one point, it seemed as if there were as many people in the group, gathered onstage and on the main floor as there were dancers, all romping together through a handful of swaying brass anthems that were as hypnotic as they were loud. The group’s explosive drumline had a lot to do with that. By now, the tequila was gone; so was a pocketful of Turkish taffy and Lebanese sesame crunch filched from one of the innumerable candy bowls placed around the venue by the organizers. Although everybody had been on their feet all night long, the remaining crowd looked like they really could have gone until dawn if the music had kept going. As the party did: a couple of rounds of ouzo and Souren Baronian classics on the stereo at a friends’ place up the block turned out to be the perfect way to wind down the best night of the year, musically speaking.

Dolunay Bring Their Turkish and Balkan Magic to Barbes on Saturday Nights This Month

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.

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.

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.

Dolunay Raises the Bar for an Amazing Night of Music Downtown This Friday

More about that amazing lineup this Friday, January 15 at Alwan for the Arts at 16 Beaver St. in the financial district. As you may remember from yesterday’s piece here, the acts are slightly staggered, Lolapalooza style, on two stages, so that you – and the booking agents in town for this week’s convention – can sample all of them between 7:45 and around 11. The concert isn’t cheap – $30 – but the lineup is killer. Starting at 7:45 PM: on the fourth floor (the main space of this Arabic-diaspora cultural center), there’s singer Jenny Luna’s exhilarating Turkish/Balkan/Middle Eastern band Dolunay, followed an hour later by similarly intense Palestinian-American buzuq player Tareq Abboushi’s Shusmo art-rock/funk project, then the whirlwind Russian Crimean Tatar Ensemble at 9:45. Upstairs on the sixth floor, there’s wild southern Italian folk reinventors Newpoli at 8, then veteran Malian griot guitarist Abdoulaye Diabate at 9 and then at 10 Punjabi chanteuse Kiran Ahluwalia, who makes mystical, mysterious albums but is much more charismatic and animated onstage than you might expect.

Dolunay’s epic debut album, Our House, is streaming at Bandcamp. Over sixteen tracks, the band weave a bristling tapestry that runs the gamut from quiet and moody, to suspenseful and serpentine, to a sort of elegantly feral dancing quality. The material mixes traditional Turkish and Rumeli (Balkan-Turkish) songs as well as originals: without knowing which are which, it’s impossible to tell the band’s own material from the centutires-old songs in their repertoire. Bracing Middle Eastern modes, eerie chromatics and minor keys rise and fall, sometimes into a gentle, jangly backdrop that brings to mind traditions as diverse as Greek and Macedonian dances or Elizabethan British balladry.

When the band aren’t snaking or dancing their way through an instrumental, frontwoman/percussionist Jenny Luna’s spellbinding voice is front and center. Depending on the song, she can be austere and plaintive, or chillingly imploring, or jaunty and triumphant. Not a lot of the material on the album employs the flickering microtones common to a lot of Middle Eastern music, but it’s when Luna glides in and out of them that she resonates the most.

One of this city’s great fretted instrumentl players, Adam Good plays the oud with his usual incisive resonance, but he also takes a turn on the janglier, higher-register cumbus – the closest thing her to his original instrument, the electric guitar – as well as the less resonant, more plinky tambura. Violinist Eylem Basaldi matches the clarity and inciisveness of the vocals, with several wickedly spiraling, spine-tingling solos throughout the album – and adds her own vocal harmonies to the mix on its most ornate, memorable numbers. Alongside Luna, percussionists Polly Ferber propels the songs through thickets of tricky meters with a scampering grace or steady, minimialist insistence, employing n an assortment of drums from across the region. Turli Tava leader Jerry Kisslinger guests on standup drum on one of the later tracks.

Considering that it bridges the chord-based song structures of western music with the more improvisational, microtonal flair of the Middle East, Balkan music in general tends to be pretty exciting stuff and this album is a prime example: it’s hard to imagine a more enjoyable mix of songs put out by any New York band over the past several months. .

Sherita Bring Their Haunting, Intense Balkan-Inspired Sounds to the East Village

Sherita play a mix of their own haunting, slinky arrangements of otherworldly Balkan and Turkish folk songs. along with pensively expansive, often hypnotic original material. With the off-the-cuff electricity of a first-class jamband, sizzling chops and the purist attention to detail of serious musicologists, they’re one of New York’s best bands. Their name is not Middle Eastern but Brooklynese: Sherita is the pink dinosaur on the billboard over the garage at the corner of Atlantic and Classon Avenues in Bed-Stuy. The group’s most recent Barbes show was one of the most riveting performances by any band in this city this year: you’ll see it here on the list of New York City’s best concerts in a couple of days. The band’s next gig is Saturday night, January 3 at around 11:30 at Drom, followed by the more explosive and similarly improvisational New York Gypsy All-Stars. Cover is a measly ten bucks.

At their Barbes gig a few weeks back, percussionist Renée Renata Bergan sang many of the songs in a cool, richly modulated,  sometimes wounded alto as she tapped out beats that ranged from skeletally tricky to sepulchrally boomy. Clarinetist Greg Squared saves his pyrotechnics for his other project, the considerably louder Raya Brass Band: this group gives him the chance to explore more pensive, lower-register terrain. Throughout the set, his lines intertwined or echoed alongside Rima Fand’s alternately stark and kinetic violin while oudist Adam Good added similarly thoughtful, often brooding solos when he wasn’t holding the songs together with his intricate picking.

Bergan sang their eerily dancing, chromatically bristling, Bulgarian-tinged opening number, Fand firing off a gorgeously spiraling solo before the clarinet took the song in a more carefree, laid-back direction. Good opened the second number with a somber improvisation; Bergan led them through a couple of stately verses before a long, moody, atmospheric jam, violin and clarinet trading echoes a la Philip Glass. They followed a bouncy uptempo dance with a suspenseful All Tomorrow’s Parties-style dirge featuring a long misterioso oud solo. The rest of the set featured a slinky Greek vocal duet; a longingly soaring nocturne sung by Fand; a gently enveloping waltz; and a sardonically biting Greg Squared original, Surrounded by Sarahs (a New York phenomenon if there ever was one) that made a long launching pad for searing clarinet riffage. They wound up with an energetic anthem by Fand that blended elements of flamenco and the Middle East; she explained that it was inspired by her mom, who has a habit of getting up in the middle of the night to write down poetry that she’s literally dreamed up.