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Signal to Noise
Winter 2007

Caught in the act: significant live concerts from around the world
by Francesco Martineli

Wadada Leo Smith
& Süleyman Erguner
Cemal Resit Rey Concert Hall, Istanbul Turkey

The 16th edition of the Istanbul AkBank Jazz Festival presented a rich and varied program, confirming its leading position among the most explorative events of its kind in Turkey and Europe. Among the most interesting features there were appearances by Alvin Curran and Dave Burrell, and a strong spotlight on Turkish musicians including Ayse Tütüncü's trio and Islak Kopek, an improvising collective from Istanbul. But the crown jewel was Tabligh, a joint project by Wadada Leo Smith and Süleyman Erguner well described as: "In the garden of the heart and soul, music for double ensembles."

Leo Smith's music should already be well known to the readers of the magazine: his Kabell recordings recently reissued by Tazdik are essential listening and illustrate how original and integral is his concept of music, sharply etched and standing by its inner strength alongside those of his friends and colleagues in the AACM: Abrams, Mitchell, Braxton, Lewis. Süleyman Erguner is known only to a limited circle of specialized listeners, but he comes from a lineage of Sufi masters and and he's the foremost ney player of his generation; hopefully his recent retirement from the Radio orchestra will allow him a more reasonable presence abroad. If you have the chance, do not miss his unique recording on the low-range ney, or his more recent Tende Canim (on Sera).

First performed in New York with Iranian musicians, this musical dialogue between American and Muslim music has strong political relevance, but any wishy-washy, generic preconceived idea about universal harmony through indistinct music was quickly dispelled by a strong artistic statement based on what Smith himself described like a collision of
musical traditions, leaving the listeners to find sense and meaning In the sounds themselves without an imposed vision.

Smith's quartet, with long-time collaborator John Lindberg, impressive guitarist Woody Aplanalp and none other than Art Ensemble's Don Moye on drums, run the gamut of soundscapes from explosive, colourful late Miles to short, staccato statements by the single musicians, a device typically used by Smith all along his career in order to attain a different space and time perspective on the music. The startling electronics by Aplanalp, Lindberg's melodic imagination and the percussive figures by a Moye in splendid shape gave blood and meat to Smith's concept, the trumpeter itself contributing with lines that were deeply original while paying tribute to past masters, from Miles Davis to Don Ayler and Lester Bowie.

Erguner's trio with young kanunist Ahmet Baran and Mert Nar on darbuka and def played several traditional pieces: Erguner's ney voice imposes itself immediately for the rich, thick sound coupled to an agile phrasing in the upper registers, but his young collaborators were very good in smoothly mixing their sounds in the improvised pieces, once again proving how Turkish traditional music can be used in a jazz context.

Smith himself conducted the complex suite based on alternating pieces by his own quartet and Süleyman's trio, with exchanges based on different procedures: the two leaders improvising within each other's piece, a percussive dialogue between Moye on traps and Mert Nar on darbuka, and episodes - including the encore - with the two full ensembles joining in. Besides the obvious differences in forms, the shared interest in the deepest meanings of sounds and their combination was the shared trait in this kaleidoscopic concert.

The audience in the huge and comfortable Cemal Resit Rey concert hall received the performance with loud applause and cheerings, now let's hope that other presenters will take it from here.

© 1997-2011 Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith