Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Turkish Woodstock

As concerts in New York go, this was something of a landmark, representing both the vanguard and the old guard of cutting-edge Turkish music, something that according to people involved with the project would have been far less likely to have taken place on Turkish soil. Istanbulive AKA the Turkish Woodstock was a quick sellout (or the equivalent – the Summerstage arena was filled to capacity minutes after the opening act, the NY Gypsy All-Stars took the stage). This time around, acclaimed Turkish clarinetist Husnu Senlendirici stood in for the mostly instrumental group’s usual reed man Ismail Lumanovski, taking the music in a surprisingly but effectively murky, pensive direction. In Turkey, the clarinet carries the same connotation as the sax does here, frequently the instrument of choice for bandleaders and for party music in general. Where Lumanovski is a ferociously intense player, someone who typically goes straight for the jugular, Senlendirici took a characteristically more spacious and contemplative approach, an apt fit for several of the ballads in the set. With a rhythm section including electronic keyboards along with guitar and kanun, they alternated between tricky, rousing dances and quieter fare, some simply instrumental versions of Turkish pop hits which became mass karaoke for the high-spirited audience. One of them sounded like the old Burt Bacharach standard Never Gonna Fall in Love Again set to a more complex rhythm. Their best number featured a guest chanteuse doing a wistful, homesick Armenian folk song backed by just keys and clarinet.

The unannounced Brooklyn Funk Essentials followed with a brief, entertaining mini-set with Senlendirici out front (their 1998 album with him is a major moment in American/Middle Eastern fusion), working a dark reggaeish vibe on the first tune, following with a straight-up funk number that lept doublespeed into ska. They then did a funny ska version of the Mozart Rondo a la Turk, and were out of there – a quick rehearsal for their show later at City Winery maybe?

Painted on Water maintained the cutting-edge vibe, delivering the afternoon’s most electrifying moments. Frontwoman Sertab Erener is a star in her home country, and this mostly English-language project – her vocals and accent are flawless – ought to expand her audience exponentially. Kicking off the set with a long, passionate, intense vocalese intro, it was clear that she had come to conquer. Like Siouxsie Sioux without the microtones, she showed off a forceful, defiant wail that on the next-to-last song of the set she unleashed with unrestrained fury, a stunning crescendo that seemed to defy the laws of physics. That such a relatively small, lithe frame could cut loose such a powerful blast of sound was a wonder to behold. Then she did it again.

They built up to that with an intriguingly cross-pollinated blend of tastefully jazzy, guitar-driven, blues and Turkish-inflected rock songs. Guitarist Demir Demirkan came across as something of a warmer Andy Summers, casually tossing off artfully precise flourishes in a multitude of styles, sticking with a clean, trebly tone. The anthemic 1000 Faced Man, from the group’s brand-new debut cd packed a funereal, Doorsy wallop, courtesy of some totally Manzarek-esque organ from the keyboardist. On the next number Demirkan matched Erener note for note, his lines thick with vibrato and apprehension, as she went off with more vocalese. The catchy, swaying, syncopated Shut up and Dance brought back the psychedelic vibe with another long, haunting organ solo. On one of the tables in the seating area to the right of the stage, a little girl methodically built an impressive pyramid out of the plastic wine goblets they were using back there, which stood resolute until blown over by a gust of wind. It made a good visual counterpart to the steadfastly wary, purist intensity of Demirkan’s playing.

Legendary Turkish rockers Mazhar Fuat Ozkan turned the vibe back to haunting, at least for awhile. Because of their three-part harmonies, the comparison they always get is CSNY and that’s completely wrong because they’re far darker – their closest western counterpart would probably be early, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, or perhaps Barclay James Harvest before they turned into the poor man’s Moody Blues, with more than a few echoes of Pink Floyd. Their mostly slow-to-midtempo anthems mixed lush, sometimes elegaic layers of guitar over stately descending progressions that owe more to western classical music than to either rock or traditional Turkish melodies, and these were potently effective. As with many of their contemporaries who date back to the early 70s, their attempts to incorporate slicker, funkier, more commercial sounds were less successful (artistically, at least, though the crowd loved them), taking on a derivative feel that the lead player’s metalish guitar licks only aggravated. As Kerouac said, first thought, best thought – stick to what you do best and you can’t go wrong.

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June 28, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lucid Culture Interview: Painted on Water

Painted on Water is the innovative collaboration of two of the most pioneering stars in Turkish music, chanteuse Sertab Erener and guitarist/composer Demir Demirkan. A mix of traditional Anatolian melodies, American jazz, rock and funk, their brand-new self-titled album just came out this month. Lucid Culture had a few questions for the duo in advance of their live show at the “Turkish Woodstock” at Central Park Summerstage at 3 PM this coming Saturday, June 27:

 

LC: Whose idea was Painted on Water? 

 

Demir: We came up with the idea of creating a project based on Anatolian musical elements that we can present to a non-Anatolian audience, together with Sertab. We wanted to bring out the large spectrum of musical elements of Anatolian music to the world stage so that it wouldn’t be too foreign but still unique to a wider audience. And we wanted our subject matter to be based on some of the principles of Anatolian and Eastern wisdom like sufism and taoism. Impermanence being one of them actually was the name root of the band. “Painted On Water” is the perfect metaphor for impermanence. The lyrics: “You and me is a long lost story painted on water…” reminds that our lives are colorful paint-drops and images which will be lost and forgotten in time. This is a rather positive point of view – no matter how impermanent our lives are, we still have to paint or picture on this canvas of life with attention and awareness.

 

LC: Who writes what? Sertab, are you the lyricist and Demir, you’re the composer, or do you mix and match?

 

Sertab: Demir wrote the lyrics to half of the songs and the rest were written by Phil Galdston.

 

Demir: I did the arrangements and harmonizing in the songs. In fact, there is no vertical harmony in Anatolian music, it’s a different system. I had to adapt it to a western system and build it harmonically first. The album was co-produced by Jay Newland, and he also mixed some of the songs. Some other material was recorded and mixed by Michael Zimmerling.

 

LC: Many of these songs are updates of Turkish folksongs – are these well known in your home country or have you uncovered some great obscurities? 

 

Demir:  Aegean Bride, the instrumental is actually an instrumental folk theme that I don’t think many people know about. We dug into the archives of a collector from Istanbul. We listened to more than a thousand recordings, some being so seriously old that you can hardly catch the melody. Some songs contain the whole melodies of the folk songs, some partial, and some I’ve written completely.

 

Sertab:  We had to play around with some of the melodies to adapt them into English language. Every language has its own musicality. Melodies modified themselves a little bit with the English lyrics.

 

LC: The cd opens with an Al DiMeola cover? Demir, are you responsible for this?

 

Demir: Yes! We asked Al DiMeola if he would play three songs in the album and then Mike Stern and I played one the songs before he came to the studio, and it sounded good. So while Al was on the way to the studio, I came up with the idea to open the album with a two-guitar piece and have Al DiMeola play both. I finished the piece just before he came in to the studio and I handed over the notes to him. Sometimes your heart and mind becomes one and you accomplish things that you couldn’t be able to if you have a very close deadline. Of course when he played it, it’s magic, it turns into music!

 

LC: The jazzier stuff on the cd carries a great deal of familiarity – it seems that you two grew up with jazz. True or not?

 

Demir: I studied jazz part-time in college in Ankara, Turkey and then some more in Hollywood. Honestly, jazz never has been my “real thing.” I know the idea, some of the things I write might fall close to the genre but real jazz performers play them and make it into real jazz. When I perform them, they come out mostly blues or rock. On the other hand I like listening to jazz.

 

LC: Nothing But to Pray is my favorite on the album. It’s especially haunting. What are the origins of this song, and what have you added to the original?

 

Sertab: I applied my own singing style to the melody. I wanted it to sound unique without falling into any style or category.

 

Demir: I harmonized the melody in away that I believe fit with the story line. I felt like I was creating a context where the event was happening. It’s really strange when you harmonize a melody that doesn’t have any. The melody begins to change meaning with different harmonies. Maybe some other person would use different harmonies and the whole thing would mean something else. To give a literal example – a bird was flying before the sunrise; a bird was flying before the sunrise over the silent battlefield…you know what I mean? The setting changes the meaning.

 

LC: What does your song Shehnaz on Shiraz mean?

 

Demir: The original name of this song is Sehnaz Longa. Sehnaz is a female name. Longa is a certain instrumental style in Ottoman music where instruments play fast passages in unison, roughly. I thought I’d swing this melody and harmonize it and put walking bass lines and improvisations in it. When I started swinging it I thought “Oh Shehnaz must be drunk!” Then I fantasized about a beautiful harem lady who’s getting drunk and dancing. She would be drinking wine and the wine would be a shiraz. So, that’s the story…Shehnaz on Shiraz!

 

LC: Will someone be doing real live Turkish ebru waterpainting via projection onstage at your Summerstage show like you have at your club concerts?

 

Sertab:  Unfortunately not at the Summerstage, because we will be playing in daylight and the projection doesn’t work…

 

LC: The bill you’re playing on is amazing, some of the most innovative and important artists in Turkey playing together for the first time in New York – is this an everyday kind of program in Turkey or would it be as special an event there as it is here?

 

Sertab: There are only a small number of festivals in Turkey, and they are mostly rock festivals. Normally this lineup is one that you couldn’t come across with. This is also an unusual situation for Turkey.

 

Demir: I have always liked MFO and I know them personally. Great guys besides being great musicians. It’s gonna be my first time sharing the stage with them at an event. I knew Husnu before he made his solo career. He plays clarinet incredibly but not a lot of people know, I actually witnessed this in one of my TV music recordings that he plays the trumpet in such a way that I’d never heard. He plays Turkish music on trumpet!

 

LC: Will this be like a bunch of old friends hanging out, or do you the various bands involved – MFO, Hüsnü Senlendirici etc. – all travel in different circles?

 

Sertab: Well, we are living in New York now, half the year, so we’ll walk to the event from our home in Upper West Side. We were at a dinner last night with everyone but everyone travels separately I think. Half of MFO isn’t here yet. When we get together, it’s a lot of laughing and great times!

 

LC: Anita Baker’s coming to town, is that something you’d be into, or way too mainstream for you?

 

Demir: I would love to see her but I’ll be in Turkey. July 27th right?

 

LC: Yeah. That was a trick question actually.

 

Sertab: It is actually too mainstream for me but I always like to listen to high class performance singers.

 

Painted on Water play Central Park Summerstage this Saturday as part of the “Turkish Woodstock” festival Istanbulive with Turkish rock legends MFO, iconic clarinetist Hüsnü Senlendirici and the NY Gypsy All-Stars. Doors are at 3, admission is free and early arrival is extremely recommended.

June 25, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment