Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Ilhan Ersahin’s Istanbul Sessions with Erik Truffaz

This is groove jazz but it’s not exactly lite jazz. Over a steady beat, whether that might be in straight-up 4/4 or something more complex, saxophonist/composer (and Nublu nightclub owner) Ilhan Ersahin joins forces with trumpeter Erik Truffaz, bassist Alp Ersonmez, drummer Turgut Alp Bekoglu and percussionist Izzet Kizil to create an imaginative series of soundscapes, some hypnotic and totally psychedelic, others closer to a traditional jazz framework. Horns and reeds are occasionally abetted by light electronic touches (a pitch pedal for the trumpet, effects pedal for the bass and occasional loops) that bring up the playfulness factor but never turn the tunes  completely over to the machines. This album blends pretty much equal amounts of late-night chillout material along with more melodically diverse, often Middle Eastern-tinged compositions.

The opening track, Freedom shuffles over a looping, aggressive reggae-tinged bass riff, Ersahin’s tenor expanding slowly. Truffaz comes in with similar precision, then they eventually switch roles. With its martial beat and hypnotically steady 8th-note bassline, Bosphorus’ understatedly bracing Middle Eastern modal flourishes give way to warm atmospheric vistas. The band follow this with Doors to Heaven, a breezy conversation between trumpet and sax; then a segue into an off-kilter passage that slowly congeals with a dub reggae feel.

Sam I Am features Ersahin at his balmiest, working a series of scales over clattering drums and a hypnotic bass pulse, then hinting at Middle Eastern tones, Bekoglu getting a rare chance to really cut loose with the drums and making the most of it. The aptly titled Downtown Istanbul moves quickly from fond wee-hours salute to jagged blues, Truffaz flailing against the rhythm section’s dubwise low-register wash. By contrast, Les Ottomans, a brisk motorway melody, optimistically awaits an action film ready to speed along with it before the final showdown. The album closes with its two best cuts, the echoey David Lynch style nightmare noir of Alley Cats, and Our Theory, which matches woozy dub to soaring majesty. Ilhan Ersahin’s Istanbul Sessions play this year’s Turkish Woodstock at Central Park Summerstage on July 3. Early arrival, 3 PM is a necessity, least year’s concert having conservatively drawn a crowd of about ten thousand, packing the arena in minutes. If you miss him there, you can always catch him on his home turf at Nublu.

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June 9, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pamela Fleming & Fearless Dreamer at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, NYC 9/18/07

Two long, exhilarating sets of jazz from the highly sought-after horn player/bandleader and her seemingly favorite cast of characters. Pam Fleming has played with everybody. She spent a few years in reggae legend Burning Spear’s band as one of the all-female trio the Burning Brass, toured with Natalie Merchant and has lately been the not-so-secret weapon in Hazmat Modine. Her trademark is the instant crescendo. Whether playing trumpet or flugelhorn, she can pull one out of thin air in a split-second and make it seem perfectly natural, a trick that only a few musicians (Robert Cray and Mary Lee Kortes come to mind) can pull off. As breathtaking a soloist as she is, it’s ironic that in her own band, she doesn’t get to do that much. Most of her compositions seem to be written through, in other words, meant to be played note for note without much if any opportunity for soloing or extemporization.

Fleming typically writes in three disparate styles: vividly evocative, richly melodic songs without words; long, sprawling, psychedelic one-chord jams that sound like early 70s gangster movie soundtracks, and jazzed-up reggae tunes that wouldn’t be out of place in the Monty Alexander songbook (imagine if Alexander was a horn player instead of a pianist). Many of the compositions she played tonight had a narrative, cinematic feel: Hollywood would do well to seek her out.

Tonight she had almost all of the unit from her latest album: the always surprising, brilliantly musical Todd Isler on drums and percussion, the fast, stylistically diverse Peter Calo on electric guitar, Leo Traversa holding down the bass, Jim West on keys, and new group member Erik Lawrence on tenor and alto sax and flute. They opened with the reggae tune Slimy Business (guess which business that is), Fleming and Lawrence conversing through their instruments and trading off on sections of the melody, a sonically textural treat. They followed that with the gorgeous, major-key Because of Anthony from their first album. The brand-new, defiant, bluesy I’ve Had Enough gave both Fleming and Lawrence their first chance to stretch out. The haunting, achingly beautiful More Than Anything began with West playing the song’s central hook and built from there; from what Fleming told the audience, it seems to be a love song, but it’s very, very dark: West’s tasteful, traditional approach to his part worked wonders. After that, they did Intrigue in the Night Market, a rousing gypsy dance she wrote for Metropolitan Klezmer (another band she plays in regularly), featuring a boisterous, imaginative hand drum solo from Isler.

The highlight of the first set was Say Goodbye, which actually isn’t nearly as mournful as the title might imply: it’s a comfortable, familiar-sounding theme (perhaps this is a personal interpretation: maybe I’m so used to saying goodbye that it feels comfortably familiar). With its nostalgic, homey central hook, it sounds like it ought to be playing over the opening credits of a popular tv drama (any HBO people out there?).

The evening’s most mesmerizing piece was Fleming’s ominous 9/11 theme, Climb, the title track from her most recent album. From the song’s tersely harrowing opening hook, it’s obvious what’s going to happen, yet the foreshadowing is white-knuckle intense, right up to inevitable crash – and the band missed the crescendo when they hit it. To their credit, they turned on a dime and then brought out every bit of the macabre, disastrous feel of the following succession of chords as the song literally fell apart. Live, watching the melody break down and disintegrate was absolutely riveting. It’s a credit to this band that they can absolutely nail Fleming’s sometimes completely unexpected thematic and mood changes.

The night finally came to a close with Ba-Bo-De, a world-music inflected, two-chord vamp that unsurprisingly evoked a Burning Spear jam, which Fleming opened by playing a conch shell for a few bars. Fleming had had a devious look on her face the entire night, and took this as her opportunity to finally leave the stage and circulate amongst the audience, getting seemingly everyone to sing part of the melody. The crowd loved the personal attention, and the band jumped on the opportunity to get mischievous while she was out mingling with the audience.

This show was part of an ongoing series here called Women Take the Bandstand, featuring a new female-fronted act on the third Tuesday of every month. Given the venue, it seems to be mostly jazz and world music. Kudos to the reliably friendly, sonically superb Nuyorican for creating the series: it’s an admirable concept.

September 20, 2007 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments