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Burhan ┼˘al and the Istanbul Oriental Ensemble


Olympia's Washington Center for the Performing Arts

8 March 2001

 

Caressing his darbuka like a lover, Burhan ┼˘al held the audience spellbound╬the booming bass accented by a thousand inhumanly quick taps of the drumâs edge, its side, even the inside of its head. Close your eyes, and it can sound like the fragments heard from a passing teenager's high-octane car stereo; open your eyes and you see a single middle-aged Turkish man and a single silver drum. "This," I thought to myself, "is the Jimi Hendrix of the darbuka."

The troupe was having a challenging tour. They had been met with disasters all along the way: a tornado in Atlanta, a massive snowstorm in Boston, floods in California, and then they heard of the 6.8-magnitude earthquake in Olympia. And upon arrival in Olympia, oud player Muzaffer Coskuner was dehydrated and too ill to play. The history of trouble goes much deeper than this, though╬it was the Muslim authorities' disapproval of music that put the keeping of musical traditions in the hands of non-Muslims: Gypsies, Jews, and Greeks.

If the Ensemble is any indication, the Gypsies have been good stewards of the tradition. The show included songs from their new CD "Cavaranserai"╬a musical telling of a caravan's stop at a serai, or temporary palace for the Sultan╬as well as classical Turkish Gypsy songs and Ottoman songs from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The charismatic, relaxed ┼˘al is clearly the leader, but he lets the other musicians shine. Fethi Tekyaygil on keman (violin), Ekrem Bagi on darbuka, Alaatin Coskuner on kanun (a plucked mandolin/harp), and Yasar Sutoglu on klarnet (yes, that's clarinet) all played lengthy solos that highlighted their individual skills. Sutoglu is a relative newcomer, being with the Ensemble just three months. He replaced Ferdi Nadaz, who died last summer just after the completion of "Cavaranserai," which contains the only published recording of his voice. The CD contains a touching homage to Nadaz, and Sutoglu, while displaying a newcomerâs nervous attention to bandleader ┼˘al, does a fine job filling his musical role in the group.

From the languid, sparse desert sounds of "Sarkl Sayd-Eyled" at the beginning of the evening to the frantic steaming conclusion of "Nihavent Longa" the Ensemble led the enthusiastic Olympia audience to a place and time far removed from this cool moist corner of the planet.

©Scott Stevens-15 March 01



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