Olcay Bayir - Neva / Harmony

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Olcay Bayir
Neva / Harmony
Riverboat Records (www.worldmusic.net)

Born in the city of Antep in Turkey's western Anatolia region, Olcay Bayir was immersed in music early on, thanks in no small part to her father's status as an ashik (a mystic troubadour of sorts) and the fact that her homeland is sandwiched between the Balkans and the Middle East. Hearing and picking up on the traditional music of Turkey and the surrounding areas was only part of the equation, though. While still in her teens, Bayir went to London to study classical opera, accounting for the dramatic subtleties in a vocal style that also retains a healthy measure of Anatolian folkloric tones. That duality makes Bayir's debut album Neva / Harmony a real treat for the ears.


Supported by a crew of musicians from Turkey, Greece, the U.K., Venezuela and Albania, Bayir re-configures pieces that have been in the Anatolian repertoire for hundreds of years as well as taking on an Albanian love song (the lively opener “Jarana”), an Armenian standard (“Mer Dan”) and “Durme,” a Sephardic lullaby (“this sounds Israeli,” surmised my wife from an adjacent room, swaying at her computer as that track pulsated in our kitchen).

"Mer Dan"

Bayir's singing is beautifully penetrating but defies easy description. It doesn't have the intensely undulating edge that many female vocalists from the same general area possess, nor is it as thunderous as what you might assume from someone with operatic training.

"Melamet Hirkasi"

To my uneducated ears it's a very appealing midway point between the two, best showcased on the 10-minute “Melamet Hirkasi,” during which Bayir elongates some phrases and cuts others to the quick, creating an air of yearning and nostalgia with a playful undercurrent. The nine songs are a smartly thought out blend of peppy and meditative, filled but not overflowing with mainly acoustic instruments of which Nicki Maher's clarinet is a particular standout, injecting both klezmer-like jauntiness and perfectly placed melancholy. Actually, all the musicians are top notch, providing superb backing for the sustained bliss of the vocals. Neva / Harmony is a smashingly good introduction and I trust that Olcay Bayir has more good things in store. -Tom Orr


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