The music I cover here may not be Jazz in the purest sense but it is music that transcends the limitations of musical boundaries. It has its own pulses and rhythms and it is improvised around themes. This is a delicious orientalist dreamscape of the sort painted by Lord Leighton, Alma Tadema, Edward Lear and Eugene Delacroix. It is redolent of sultry afternoons in an Ottoman palace or of the winding streets of Istanbul. In the unfolding subtleties, one can hear the merest snatches of older themes; Constantinople and even Byzantium are hinted at but never confined. This is not traditional Turkish music but an exotic vision of a landscape just beyond our reach. This achieves what all great music does – connects us with a world that we would want to explore further.
In early December I received an email from Rattle Records inviting me to the ‘Pacif.ist’ CD launch and at that point I had scant information on the event. I had every intention of requesting more details but the workaday world drowned me in trivia and I soon forgot. One week later I was sitting in a meeting when the reminder flashed up on my iPhone; the launch was starting in an hour.
The venue was the spectacular Iron Bank building. An imposing piece of modernist architecture towering far above the rainy Auckland streets. The launch was held in an intimate minimalist space and the invited guests were mainly musicians associated with Rattle. To one side of the dimly lit room was a beautiful red lacquered harp and beside it the barest bones of a drum kit (snare and cymbals). Soon, harpist, Natalia Mann sat down to conduct a brief sound check and when she had finished I spoke to her about the lovely voicings that she was creating as she plucked and stroked the strings. They were pianistic Jazz chords, but with all of the extensions added. In the conversation that followed, we spoke of BeBop harpist Dorothy Ashby and of the later avant-garde stylist Alice Coltrane. At this point, I was intrigued to hear the music, as this was a gap in my musical knowledge that I was very happy to fill.
I have long been a fan of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern Jazz and its Jazz/World Music offshoots, but I can’t recall ever hearing Turkish Musicians. The launch used only a duo but they captured the mood perfectly – Natalia Mann (harp) and the well-known local, multi-instrumentalist Kody Neilson on drums. The album could perhaps be described as improvised World-Music but with Jazz inflexions – the sort that ECM presents so convincingly. With top rated musicians like Tigran Hamasyan and Dhafer Youssef bridging the World/Jazz continuum we will see a lot more of this music on offer. If you open your ears Jazzers and listen carefully, this gentle melodic music with its rich percussion will get to you.
After Natalia had returned to her busy life in Istanbul I conducted an email interview with her and this will be posted as an addendum to this post in a few days.
The Album Pacif.ist is available in download or hard copy from Rattle Records. I would strongly urge buying the CD, as the artwork and liner notes are so good that it would be a crime against art to circumvent them. http://www.rattle.co.nz
The musicians on the album are; Natalia Mann (harp, compositions), Izzet Kizil (percussion & drums), Sercan Halili (classic Kemence & Alto Kemence), Abdullah Shakar (fretless bass & electric bass), Dine Doneff (double bass), Richard Nunns (taonga puoro ), Lucien Johnson (soprano & tenor sax ), Riki Gooch (percussion [1,2,3]), Naomi Jean O’Sullivan (gongs , co- writer), Serdar Pazarcioglu (violon ), Deniz Gungor (aqua ). The album was mainly recorded in Turkey but with some instruments recorded in New Zealand. That rich-voiced exotic string instrument you hear is the ancient Kemence (see interview).
After I had written this, I saw an article in the latest Downbeat about the growing Jazz scene in Turkey titled ‘Emerging Turks’. The New York times has also highlighted this in a recent article. Natalia is New Zealand born and of Samoan/European descent. She is at present doing a master’s degree in Jazz at Skopje and is in demand with various European orchestras. She loves Jazz and has projects on the way which will lean more in that direction.