Friday, October 12, 2012

Jazz: Turkish pioneers Sevda

Posted By on 10.12.12 at 02:00 PM

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Early this past summer I wrote about a fantastic reissue of an album by trumpeter Don Cherry called Organic Music Society, a series of recordings made in Sweden in 1971 and '72 that helped set the tone for what would later be called "world music," a term Cherry used himself as early as the mid-70s. An expansive, open-ended record, it involved players from locales as far-flung as Brazil and Turkey and tapped into even broader array of traditions.

For years Sweden had one of the world's strongest jazz communities, in part due to the presence of American expats like bassist Red Mitchell and trumpeter Bill Barron—to say nothing of folks such as Dexter Gordon and Kenny Drew in nearby Denmark. While the likes of Lars Gullin and Arne Domnerus expertly played American-style swing and bop, others, including pianist Jan Johansson, carved out new territory by combining jazz with Swedish folk material. But Cherry's work was something altogether different, turning Stockholm into a kind of meeting place for international cultures. The band Sevda, which included Swedish players and expat Turks (including percussionist Okay Temiz, who played on those Cherry sessions), was active at the same time and explored similar fusions, albeit in a more polished, jazz-oriented manner. Caprice Records, the label behind the Cherry reissue, has also released a stunning little box set from Sevda.

The band was formed by trumpeter Muvaffak "Maffy" Falay, who'd earned praise from Dizzy Gillespie when he visited Ankara in 1956; Falay was later a member of the Cologne-based Clarke-Boland Big Band. Seeking greener pastures, he and some fellow Turkish musicians settled in Stockholm in the mid-60s, and not long after, he met Cherry. Temiz turned up in Sweden in 1969, and by 1971 Turkish melodies were colliding with jazz improvisation in Cherry's work. Falay convinced a virtuosic Turkish violinist named Salih Baysal to help him form Sevda with Temiz and several key Swedes, including reedist Gunnar Bergsten and bassist Ove Gustafsson. The group quickly became popular and in 1972 won the first-ever Jazz in Sweden Award, the prize for which was an album on the newly launched Caprice imprint.

The resulting LP, Jazz I Sverige '72, was cut live in a Swedish broadcasting studio with a small audience; the addition of the great Swedish reedist Bernt Rosengren and percussionist Akay Temiz (Okay's brother) gave Sevda extra firepower. The music is fantastic, opening with Baysal's extended solo (or, in Turkish, a taksim) and gaining force from modified darbuka accompaniment. All the music is based on Turkish folk material, usually with irregular time signatures like 9/4 or 7/8 and guided by makam, the traditional modes that dictate melodic shapes and intervals. Its modal basis makes it ideal for jazz improvisation, and there are plenty of invigorating solos that place postbop language over Eastern ostinato patterns. Below you can watch video of the performance on the album—the whole thing is on a DVD that's part of the set.

The group's second and final album, Live at Jazzhus Montmartre Featuring Salih Baysal, was recorded live in Copenhagen just a week later by Nils Winther-Rasmussen (who would soon launch the Steeplechase label) and featured only the core quintet. The opening taksim by Baysal is much longer and more involved than the one on the first album, and it sets the tone for a more intense and probing performance by the whole group. Whereas Baysal often sits out on the first album, here his astringent, slashing lines are ominpresent, delivering an acidic counterpoint to the cumulus-like baritone sax of Bergsten and the bright, driving patterns of Falay (who plays piano). Below you can check out the track "Köçekce," which captures Sevda at its most ferocious.

Within a few years Baysal returned home and the group disbanded, with Falay returning to a more conventional postbop sound. These days it feels like every country has had its traditional folk music combined with jazz in some fashion, but Sevda were amongst the earliest practitioners, and this essential set affirms that few have done it so well.

Today's playlist:

Alice Coltrane, Ptah, The El Daoud (Impulse)
Various artists, Cheap. Have a Cigar, My Friend, 1993-1998 (P-Vine)
Ismael Miranda con Orchestra Harlow, Abran Paso! (Fania)
Candeia, Candeia (Discobertas)
Ran Blake, All That Is Tied (Tompkins Square)

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