Burhan Öçal and the Classical Ensemble of Istanbul
Orient Secret
l'empreinte digitale (distributed by Harmonia Mundi)

This release offers Islamic traditional art music from the sacred and secular repertoire of the 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century Ottoman Empire, which artistry reflects the modal strains of its Indian, Persian, Arabic and Turkish foundations. The sultan's court of Istanbul inherited the cultural mantle of Islam with the decline of Arabic and Persian influence in the 16th century, marking a shift in cultural dominion that attracted poets, musicians and artists from all over the Ottoman Empire. Turkish classical composition reflects a strong spiritual influence (most notably that of the Sufi Mevlevi or "whirling dervishes"), and (if we can believe the album notes, which cultivate a certain orientalist perspective) the romantic sensuality of a poetry of exaltation and the glorification of carnal pleasure.

The Classical Ensemble of Istanbul is conducted by Burhan Öçal (vocals, bendir or stringed frame drum, darbouka or single-headed goblet drum, and kudüm or small kettledrums), with Selim Guler (kemençe, a small, oblong 3-string bowed lute), Göskel Baktagir (kanun, a trapezoidal zither with 72 gut strings), Arif Erdebil (ney, the Turkish classical calamus reed or hardwood flute, similar to a recorder, the favored instrument of the Mevlevi dervishes), and Yurdal Tekcan ('ud, an unfretted, double-course, 11-string short-necked lute). This is a strong, well-rehearsed ensemble whose fluid, meditative explorations of their chosen repertoire warrant the notice of anyone interested in the music of the Mideast. - Michael Stone