FOR YOUR GRAMMY® CONSIDERATION
BEST LARGE JAZZ ENSEMBLE ALBUM
“Times of the Turtledove” featuring Miguel Zenón from TURKISH HIPSTER
BEST INSTRUMENTAL COMPOSITION
“A truly multi-cultural experience” All Things Considered, NPR
“Turkish Hipster merits much consideration as one of this year’s top large ensemble projects” Jim Hynes, Making A Scene
“…this fascinating album…weaves together Afro-Caribbean jazz with Return to Forever fusion while detouring into hip-hop and rock…Sanlikol avoids every world music cliché on Turkish Hipster” David Luhrssen, Shepherd Express
“This splendid recording illuminates the many and varied talents of Mehmet Ali Sanlikol…, one that will resonate for years to come” Richard B. Kamins, Step Tempest
“…a great deal of unexpected hypnotic creativity and culture” Dee Dee McNeil, Musicalmemoirs’s Blog
Listen to “Times of the Turtledove” featuring Miguel Zenón (Best Instrumental Composition)
Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol is a man on a mission: He’s bringing the world together through music. This might sound grand or over-the-top. But I ardently believe it. Rarely have I seen someone so committed to exploring his ethnic roots – in this case, Turkish – through the prism of large ensemble orchestration. His unquenchable curiosity is admirable, and for the rest of us, very entertaining. His album Turkish Hipster is his latest manifestation of his intercultural project.
But before I get to the music, let me officially go on record by saying Mehmet is a polymath. I’ve known him for several years. I’ve performed with him. I’ve been to his house. I’ve been to his basement, which is like a musical laboratory where he invents and builds musical instruments (but first you have to descend a staircase adorned with photographs of jazz greats like Charlie Parker as well as Turkish musicians Neyzen Tevfik and Tanburi Cemil Bey. I’ve drank his Turkish coffee (delightfully strong). The man composes. He arranges. He writes academic papers and books. He plays many instruments. He sings. He acts. I don’t know if he juggles, but something tells me that he could.
The Renaissance Man brings it all together with Turkish Hipster. But why exactly this title? The term “hipster” is often used to describe a subculture of folks who are known for their non-conformist attitudes and interests in alternative fashion, music, and art. Hipsters are often trendsetters who value authenticity and creativity. In terms of music, hipsters gravitate towards independent and unexplored genres. Or at least, they try to bring traditions together and, in some exceptional cases, create their own aesthetic. This is Mehmet. The barista of big band.
The opening groove of A Capoiera Turca signals that we’re in for an exciting odyssey. A hybrid feel performed by Brazilian and Turkish instruments. Raydar Ellis’ spoken word rap in The Boston Beat takes this project to another level, leveraging poetry to spotlight the incredible featured soloists. Estarabim takes us into the province of Turkish rock because…why not? The album culminates with Sanlıkol’s tour-de-force suite in which he interprets the foundational story of Abraham with music. This is a seminal and even watershed contribution not only to the music community but to everyone trying to build bridges between disparate communities and faiths.
This album is pan-borders, pan-genres, pan-instruments. It’s unified in that it comes from the singular mind of Mehmet. He is a man of the world, and he has seen the common threads across cultures and civilizations. He brings his learnings together on this epic production, and it’s a tremendous undertaking. But it’s well worth it. Bravo.
In this jazz orchestra album you will hear Brazilian Capoeira meet Turkish folk and a 70s Turkish psychedelic Rock classic run back to back with American Hip hop. While such music may be more accessible to the general listener, I would also like to point out that, as far as I know, this is the first time Capoeira and Turkish folk grooves blend in order to create an entirely new piece of music…
Similarly, this album includes the first ever example of the saxophone and the trumpet sections within a jazz orchestra playing precise microtonal flavors of classical Ottoman/Turkish music through the use of alternate fingerings and various techniques I have perfected over several decades. Furthermore, what is most significant here is that none of the players are Turkish, but rather all American musicians…
Perhaps it is fair to say that this album presents innovative original music written for jazz orchestra that has entry points for a wide audience due to its stylistic variety and accessibility. However, that variety can also be challenging: I ask the listener to go from Capoeira to Sufi influences, and from Swing to classical Ottoman/Turkish music and more!… That being said, isn’t it common to come across such non-western influences in all kinds of jazz recordings these days? True, but I am afraid most recordings tend to rely on clichés and stereotypical sounds in line with the reductionist images and news alerts we are bombarded with every second of every day of our lives. Whereas, while this album may have entry points for all listeners, it also presents a kind of eclecticism that is sophisticated and challenging: even the most experienced ears may not necessarily be able to immediately appreciate, for example, the subtleties of intonation being adopted from classical Ottoman/Turkish music to the jazz orchestra.
I grew up as a classical pianist, played in progressive Rock bands in my teens, came to the US when I was 18 and studied jazz piano and composition only to rediscover my roots 7 years after my arrival. The process of that rediscovery involved intensely studying traditional musics from Turkey for over a decade, which also included learning how to play several traditional instruments. In the end, I came to internalize several different musical languages as a result of which I now consider myself to be a successful musical translator. Perhaps we can all agree that to translate an idiomatic expression is a very difficult task which often requires entirely bilingual individuals. Music as well is full of such idiomatic expressions and their translation in music is equally challenging, requiring fully ‘bimusical’ individuals. In fact, I am convinced that for musical undertakings incorporating non-western influences to truly go beyond clichés and standardizations, there needs to be at least one fully bi- or multi-musical composer/performer to properly translate, direct and create. Thus, what I am suggesting (and presenting in this album) is a sophisticated form of cosmopolitanism that allows us to access many worlds without seeking to reduce or standardize them.
In line with such cosmopolitanism, what begins this album is a piece built around a fully hybrid groove which I constructed as a result of my multi-musical past. One of the first things I picked up when playing with Brazilian musicians back in the late 90s was a particular sense of swing they would incorporate into their 16th note feels. When one played such music completely straight, a Brazilian musician would quickly, and rightfully, stop and try to explain what it is that was not being performed properly. Some years later when I started to play Turkish folk musics I came to notice a similar sense of swing especially in the picking patterns of the saz (long-necked lute) as a result of which A Capoeira Turca (Baia Havası) was born. In this piece, while the trumpets and the featured soloist on clarinet, Anat Cohen, can be heard playing selected microtonal flavors of Turkish folk music through alternate fingerings I developed, the central binding musical element is the hybrid groove that connects to lighter and funkier Brazilian feels as well as feels reminiscent of those found in vintage Turkish Rock recordings from the 70s.
The most adventurous and expansive compositional statement in this album may be The Times of the Turtledove which was inspired by a musical and historical discovery. The classical Ottoman/Turkish usul (rhythmic) cycle known as fahtefor several centuries has been and is still known as a 20-beat cycle. However, an early 18th century source presents a 10-beat version which we understand slowed down and expanded over several centuries turning into the current 20-beat version. The discovery I mentioned happened when a friend let me know that a 15th century source included a 5-beat version of this cycle which, apparently, was modeled after the turtledove’s call – fahte in Farsi means turtledove. I quickly saw that the 5-beat version was an ancestor of the 10-beat version and as a result, once I put the three different versions side by side I could see that the original 5-beat version slowed down to become the 10-beat version which then again slowed down to become the current 20-beat version – a sample of the turtledove’s call in 5 beats can be heard at the beginning and the end of the composition. This discovery inspired me so much so that I composed this extended piece which presents not only all of the different versions of the fahte usul cycle in various styles but also features beats and feels influenced by these various versions of fahte (such as the swing feel in 5).
Another unusual aspect of this composition is the extended section in the middle where the saxophone and the trumpet sections of the jazz orchestra play precise microtonal flavors of classical Ottoman/Turkish music. While I had the trumpets play these very specific flavors successfully ever since 2002, I developed the alternate fingerings for the saxophones over the past 5 years. This process started out with Tommy Smith, the wonderful Scottish saxophonist and composer, while on tour in Switzerland and briefly continued with my dear friend Melanie Howell Brooks (playing on this album) which was interrupted by the pandemic. The majority of the work was done with my former student Paul Meland whose help was crucial in getting the exact fingerings for various precise microtonal flavors. In addition to the middle section you can hear Miguel Zenón playing these microtonal flavors with alternate fingerings in unison with a prepared vibraphone during several faster sections as well. I am grateful to Brian O’Neill for taking the time to experiment with me in order to make this musical effect possible.
I have been based in Boston since 1993 and have studied with giants of jazz composition including Herb Pomeroy, George Russell and Bob Brookmeyer in this city. There certainly were many other hugely influential composers like Ken Pullig and Greg Hopkins who not only significantly contributed to jazz composition but also touched my life and many others’ who came to Boston. That being said, other than the iconic names I mentioned, how many of these fantastic composers based in Boston were celebrated in the mainstream jazz media?… So I wanted to speak up and honor Boston’s great legacy in jazz, and somehow I was reminded of Quincy Jones’ album “Back on the Block”. Indeed, The Boston Beat is modeled after “The Jazz Corner of the World” found on that album. Just like Quincy I brought in a rapper, the amazing Raydar Ellis who teaches at Berklee, and invited my friends, Anat, Antonio and Miguel who lived in Boston early in their careers and cared for the story I wanted to tell. A small group version of this piece was released during the pandemic. The version on this album is almost identical except for the big band arrangement.
Estarabim has certainly been one of my favorite Turkish Rock songs of all time and it is the kind of classic that would be immediately recognized by pretty much any Turkish person. Erkin Koray, who wrote this song, is an icon of Turkish Rock music and was certainly the leading artist of the Turkish psychedelic style throughout the 70s. While I tend to distance myself from music that has achieved the status of a classic, I made an exception here due to being convinced by the horn arrangement as well as the ska/reggae influences.
The “Abraham” Suite was first commissioned and recorded by the Jazzaar Festival directed by Fritz and Helen Savari Renold in 2019. That project united three different composers (Gil Goldstein, Fritz Renold and myself) representing the three different Abrahamic faith traditions’ versions of Abraham’s story. I selected three different episodes from Abraham’s story according to Islam: Abraham thrown into a fire when he denounced idol worship but was saved by God; when Abraham almost killed his son, who according to Islam was Ishmael; and the building of the Kaaba by Abraham and Ishmael. The version recorded by Jazzaar was composed for a smaller band featuring the great Billy Cobham and was released as part of an album later in 2019. However, I had always thought that there was a great potential for a jazz orchestra version of the suite and so I reached out to my friend Antonio Sanchez.
As far as Turkish Sufi music influences go, The Fire is where they can be heard most clearly in the form of a zikir (vocal ostinato) where the members of the horn section start repeating “La ilahe illallah” (there is no god but God). The zikir builds up with the help of a 16-beat long rhythmic cycle on top of which the zurna (tenor shawm) and the trumpets (utilizing my alternate fingerings and extended tube techniques) play together melodic lines reminiscent of the so-called Ottoman Janissary bands (ancestors of the European military bands and consequently the jazz big bands). While The Sacrifice begins with a calm introduction led by the duduk (double reed pipe), it quickly transitions to an anxious Afro-Cuban fusion feel building up throughout this movement while featuring several soloists. Finally, The Call brings this suite to an unexpected but a reflective end during which you can perhaps imagine watching the main title of a James Bond movie somehow referring to “A Touch of Eternity”…
In the end, the question still remains: What’s next?
Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol
The Boston Beat – spoken word rap by Raydar Ellis
Crossing the Charles while I’m feeling the breeze blow
You gotta be cut from a certain cloth for these notes
Cuz these streets felt the soles from the soul we chose
Who packed in at Wally’s to jam all night and let the drinks flow
We was on the beach at 150 like a militia
Passin charts with lead smudges tween cigarette smoke the picture
Was like a Great Day in Harlem
But we was just classmates
Tryin to pass grades slidin on stage like cascades
I was there at Scullers
I was at the Middle East
I was livin on Mission Hill dodgin dealers and police
Now I’m with my mans Mehmet and all these vets on this release
Livin lovely loopin licks life’s lavish leveled up lease
How bout a hand for the band now?
Bartender fill the drinks
And show your love for the sound providers with applause and klinks
Anat the flyest out of Tel Aviv since the diamond
She get down on the clarinet and rock with perfect timin
Berklee alum part of Artemis MD’d Newport Jazz
Please hit ‘Em with a taste and show ‘em what ya have
His name is Miguel one of the illest saxophonists
from Puerto Rico in any band he’s a prime component
Founded Caravana Cultural as a way to give back
I think he got a lil more yo Miguel where ya at??
Antonio’s a bad hombre nice on the traps
One of Mexico City’s finest set him loose on the track
My man Mehmet’s the orchestrator the truth like Sojourner
came from Turkey to Boston and went from Chopin to Joe Turner
rediscovered his roots through the long neck flute and Zurna
Now he bout to ring off and push the whole gang further
We gon swag on ‘em
We gon shine on ‘em
We gon repeat in that order every time on ‘em
You know the name of that sound we found in the north east
Bumpin in the streets
This is the Boston Beat
Estarabim – lyrics by Erkin Koray
Çok memleketler gezdim I have traveled far and wide
Neler gördüm görmedim I have seen all kinds of things
Şu kocaman dünyada In this whole wide world
Senin gibi görmedim I didn’t see anyone like you
Böyle bir yar istemem I don’t want no such lover
İstesem de istemem Even when I feel like it, I still don’t want one
Güller bitti dilimde Roses grew on my tongue
Nasıl diyeyim bilmem I don’t know how else to say it
Estarabim estarabim Estarabim estarabim
Sağdan soldan estarabim To the right, to the left estarabim
Ateş olmayan yerde Where there is no fire
Duman tütmezmiş derler They say there is no smoke
Zaman zaman halini From time to time if they were to see
Bir görseler gülerler They’d laugh at how you are
Translation by Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol
La ilahe illallah There is no god but God
The Call “A Touch of Eternity” – lyrics by Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol
I have been after a touch of eternity
in my small world, in some corner,
I’ve been often defeated by my humanity,
and the duality which is the hardest of all
So I’ve built a house for you to face
for I’ve been told all I need is my heart, Friend
Mihmandar oldum ben Allah’a, Hak Dost
(I’ve become God’s host, o Friend)
All music composed and arranged by Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol (Mehteran publishing, ASCAP) except “Estarabim” composed by Erkin Koray and arranged by Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol.
Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol, voice, ney, duduk, zurna, rebab, saz, electric saz, berimbau, kaşık, woodblock, tambourine,synthesizers/keyboards, continuum fingerboard, clavinet, fender rhodes in The Call, guitar & piano in The Boston Beat, bendir in Times of the Turtledove (soloist in Estarabim, The Sacrifice and The Call)
Anat Cohen, clarinet
Miguel Zenón, alto saxophone
Antonio Sanchez, drums
Raydar Ellis, rap
Noel Smith, voice (Times of the Turtledove)
Mark Zaleski, alto saxophone, flute (soloist in Estarabim)
Aaron Kaufman-Levine, alto saxophone
Lihi Haruvi, alto saxophone (“Abraham” Suite)
Rick DiMuzio, tenor saxophone, clarinet
Bill Jones, tenor saxophone (The Boston Beat & Estarabim)
Aaron Henry, tenor saxophone, clarinet (soloist in The Sacrifice)
Melanie Howell Brooks, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Kathy Olson, baritone saxophone (A Capoeira Turca)
Mike Peipman, trumpet, flugel horn
Jeff Claassen, trumpet, flugel horn
Dan Rosenthal, trumpet, flugel horn
Doug Olsen, trumpet, flugel horn (Times of the Turtledove)
Jerry Sabatini, trumpet, flugel horn
Chris Gagne, trombone
Bob Pilkington, trombone
Garo Saraydarian, trombone
Angel Subero, bass trombone
Utar Artun, piano, fender rhodes
Phil Sargent, guitar
Fernando Huergo, bass
Bertram Lehmann, drums, pandeiro, atabaque, talking drum, kös, caxixi, flex-a-tone, guiro
George Lernis, glockenspiel, santur, darbuka, bongos
Brian O’Neill, vibraphone, kudüm, cymbals (soloist in The Call)
Additional zikir (vocal ostinato) participants in The Fire: Rowan Guilderson, George Lernis, Serap Kantarcı Sanlıkol, Suzi Sanlıkol and Can Şakirt
Bertram Lehmann appreciates the continued support by Aquarian Drumheads, Vic Firth Drumsticks, Murat Diril Cymbals, DEM’ Sticks specialty rods, fans, and brooms in the making of this recording
Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol thanks Erkin Koray, Fatma Durmaz Yılbirlik and Serap Kantarcı Sanlıkol
Produced by Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol and Kabir Sehgal
This album was recorded at Futura Productions (Roslindale, MA) between December 2021 and June 2022 by John Weston.
Assistants: Travis Karpak and Josh Lu
Mixed and mastered by John Weston
Cover and packaging design by DM Stith
Cover photo by Suzi Sanlıkol
This album has been made possible with the support of Jazz Road, a national initiative of South Arts funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with additional support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the New England Conservatory Faculty Professional Development Grant
Release date: 7.21.2023
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