Shtreiml and Fenci: Turkish And Hassidic Music Meet In Montreal

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Turkish And Jewish Music Meet In Montreal

After experiencing some tediousness, listening to so-called projects aimed to the "smooth world music" market, where going global means adding an old pre-digested disco beat to some ethnic sounds, Fenci's Blues gave me hope again – music can be still fresh, inspired, funny, moving and creative. The CD combines Shtreiml, the innovative klezmer jam band from Montreal, with the oud playing and the Turkish repertoire of Ismail Fencioglu, serious scholar and performer of Turkish music, graduated from the Istanbul Conservatory and ud soloist in several CDs of the "Unforgettable Turkish Composers" series. Ismail Hakki now leads the Ottawa Turkish Music choir and has performed with Brenna Mccrimmon, the Canadian vocalist who fell in love with Thracian music and leads her own "Karsilama" group.

The concoction of sounds, melodies and techniques is startling – blues meets Hassidic music in Istanbul – but the result is exhilarating.

Shtreiml is centered around the harmonica/trombone combination of Jason Rosenblatt and trombonist Rachel Lemisch, brilliantly supported by Thierry Arsenault on drums and Adam Stotland on electric bass: virtuoso techniques on the harmonica allow the instrument to perfectly fit in East European and Balkan contexts, while the powerful trombone alternates between rhythmic punctuations and humorous countermelody, with all the freedom of jazz.

After the introductory title tune, the old Mahur classic "Beyoglunda Gezersin" made famous by Emel Sayin, is given a tongue-in cheek treatment bordering on country blues, and the following track, "Roman Dunya," seems to extract its driving Gypsy rhythms, bass and drums from the popular bars around Tunel, twisting them around. Rosenblatt, in his astonishing solo, uses a repertory of wailing, bent sounds: an uninformed listener would probably not believe it's a harmonica. A more reflective atmosphere is introduced by the song based on Orhan Veli's politically critical poetry, with music by Fencioglu. Cemal Bey's "Nikriz Longa" gets a rhythmic workout, bringing it back to its Balkan roots, and all through the CD classic compositions of different Turkish styles alternate with klezmer traditional pieces or originals. "Hicaz Mandra" is another driving Thracian piece, and again a dramatic change of atmosphere occurs with only the resonating strings of oud accompanying Fenci's voice in the romantic Nihavent tune "Semalardan" by Udi Ibrahim Effendi, a composer of late Ottoman era. A little later in the same makam, the ubiquitous "Longa" turns up in a sinuous, swinging version, while maybe the most famous of Udi Ibrahim songs, "Seni Her Dem Aniyorum," can be heard as well, this time with rhythms. The few recordings made by Ibrahim himself, a Jew from Syria, can be heard on the Ud volume of the 'Masters of Turkish Music' on the Kalan label, where he's called Misirli, or Egyptian, just to complicate matters. The final listed track is an Anatolian folk song that has become a staple of the Istanbul Gypsy bands, covered by Laço Tayfa in their Hicaz Dolap for example. After it, there's a bonus track: without a great effort of imagination, it's "Uskudara Giderken" or "Katibim," once sang by Eartha Kitt as 'A Turkish Tale' and it doesn't add much.

This is not the first time that such a blend has been tried. The Amsterdam Klezmer Band met with Gypsy musicians from Istanbul on their recording Katakofti, but Fenci's Blues stands out for its uncluttered sound and its unfettered inventiveness.

Fenci's Blues shows that one can be perfectly true to the traditions and give them a new twist as well – that's how all these "traditions" we deal with were created the first time around anyway. A much-needed gush of wind renovating the stale air that sometimes stagnates around them. - Francesco Martinelli

CD available from cdRoots

This article orginally appeared in Turkish Daily News, the Ankara daily English language newspaper.
©2006 F. Martinelli


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