12 May 2001 - The French and the Americans do not see eye to eye
about, among other things, jazz. There is a revival of interest in
Archie Shepp and Chet
Baker in France. Shepp opened the Banlieues Blues Festival in
Paris. His picture was on the cover of Jazz Magazine recently, while the
March issue of Jazzman commemorated the 10th anniversary of Baker's
death with a two-page article. Neither Shepp nor Baker are on the tips
of many American tongues these days. Jazz made by Frenchmen, and
Europeans in general, even less so.
For example, if you praise
a Turkish jazz musician to the cats in New York, be prepared for puzzled
if not hostile looks. Although, in one case anyway, that may be about to
change. Burhan Öçal just finished a rare two-month U.S. tour
with the Kronos Quartet in San Francisco and the Istanbul Oriental
Ensemble in Irvine.
One night last summer, Öçal's
performance of his suite Groove alla Turca topped the bill at
the Istanbul Jazz Festival. It featured two thin and freaky scratching
and sampling DJs from Marseille, while a large man who carries heavy
loads on the docks of Izmir sang with operatic power in a robust
traditional folk style. The audience was ecstatic. The same work,
recorded with Öçal's co-leader, the former Ornette Coleman
bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, has now been released in Europe by
Groove alla Turca presents soulful,
Oriental raps by the Egyptian pop singer Natasha Atlas. Jack Walrath,
the last trumpeter to play with
rides with gusto on top. The trombonist Art Baron in the middle. The
bottom is well exploited by Tacuma. Öçal's odd-metered rock-
and jazz-tinged Oriental percussion supports a bubbling funk groove,
shuffling Turkish rhythms, scales and strings. The title is to be taken
literally. Like anything truly new, it is refreshingly
thoughtful people suggest that just possibly the next epoch of the music
once known as jazz may be built on such fusions with other cultures. The
New Orleans tradition would then become one element in a true world
music. "Many varieties of ethnic music are in the process of making
themselves known to jazz," Tacuma says.
plays classical and authentic traditional Ottoman music as well. He is a
master of Turkish vocal techniques. Some Turkish forms resemble jazz -
in taqsim, one musician develops a theme and then the others pick up the
thread. Mainly, Öçal invests in a jazz-based category to a
large degree of his own making. Really innovative people are hard to
list. One "pure" jazz critic named it, oversimplified but not
inaccurately, "Turkish square dance music." In Turkey, Öçal
is a star, drawing enthusiastic, large crowds. Western listeners
knowledgeable about ethnic music from around the world are fascinated by
made his international name with the Istanbul Oriental Ensemble; their
first recording, "Gypsy Rum," won the 1995
Record Critics Award. Born in 1953 in Kirklareli, a village in
Thrace, introduced to percussion through his father and religious vocal
music through his mother, he mastered many scales and modes and all
sorts of Turkish percussion sequences and instruments. He also plays the
oud. After living in Zurich for 15 years, he has just moved back to
Photo Courtesy of the
Society of Orange County
He says that it had been his "good luck"
to grow up in a hometown that is "in the center of the old music,"
a place where odd and extended rhythms were part of everyday life. He
learned them like learning how to walk or talk. So now when he plays in
time signatures such as 45/16, he does not even have to count. He
illustrates, singing while accompanying himself on a darbuka (a finger
drum) between his knees. It comes down to 11, 9 and 11 again, making 31;
and then add a 5 and finish with another 9 to equal 45: "It's easy."
Take his word for it.
"I am always leader of
any group I am in," he says. "I am a natural leader. I am like
Bruce Lee. You must be strong with musicians, musicians are not easy."
He laughs upon hearing that a journalist had described him as looking
like "a cross between an Anatolian rocker and a Swiss gangster."
Öçal's words are punctuated by laughter: "I can sleep
in the street like a Gypsy or I am also living the high life in
five-star hotels. It is of no importance for me. I love music. I love
action. I went to a Turkish classical conservatoire for a couple of
weeks, I was bored. I went to a jazz academy in Switzerland and it was
boring too. I am not classical or folk or rock or jazz, I am just
following my instincts."
He has played at the University
of Nebraska with Seamus Blake, a blazing young tenorman of rising
repute. He performed at the University of Southern California in duo
with the classical guitarist Eliot Fisk. Later this month he'll be in
Germany with the Joe
Zawinul Syndicate. His percussive color drives the pianist Peter
Waters's adaptation of Bach's Goldberg Variations.
is my main man," says Öçal. "I listen to hip-hop
too. I go to small jazz clubs and to classical concert halls. I listen
Öçal, Istanbul Oriental Ensemble: Gypsy Rum
Öçal: Jardin Ottoman
Öçal, Istanbul Oriental Ensemble : Sultan's Secret Door
Öçal, Istanbul Oriental Ensemble: Caravanserai
Related links: Turkish
Mike Zwerin has been jazz and rock
critic for the International Herald Tribune for the last twenty years.
He was also the European correspondent for The Village Voice. Mike
Zwerin is the author of several books on jazz and the jazz and world
music editor of Culturekiosque.com.