Al Kindi: Parfums Ottomans
Le Chant du Monde
Pianist Dave Brubeck and his quartet's exploration of "exotic" time signatures on the 1959 album Time Out (Columbia) was, for its era, strikingly adventurous. The disc's opening track, "Blue Rondo A La Turk," was in 9/8, and "Take Five" was in 5/4. More crazy than adventurous, thought Columbia's executives. They believed the jazz public would be baffled by the time signatures and, for almost a year, the label barely promoted the album. But the public were unbaffled, and ramped up Time Out's sales by word of mouth. Only then was "Take Five," b/w "Blue Rondo A La Turk," released as a single, to become an international chart hit.
Goodness knows what those executives would have made of the Ensemble Al Hindi's rereleased Parfums Ottomans. It explores a dozen or so other classical Turkish (or, more accurately, Ottoman) time signatures, including a string of eight-quaver patterns from 13/8 up to...wait for it...48/8. There may not be any hit singles here, yet the music's lyricism, extensive use of improvisation and rhythmic sophistication commend it to anyone who appreciates Time Out's genius. As it happens, the modal structure of classical Ottoman music also resonates with another 1959 jazz classic, trumpeter Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (Columbia).
One way and another, Parfums Ottomans has jazz-friendly written all over it.
Ensemble Al Kindi was founded in Aleppo, Syria in 1983 by the French-born qanun (plucked zither) player Julian Jalaleddin Weiss. His mission has been to conserve the court and sacred music of the old Ottoman empire, typically focusing on one particular tradition or cultural center for each of Al Kindi's releases. Parfums Ottomans is, says Weiss, his first truly syncretic album.
The two discs feature pieces by Turkish, Persian, Indian and Arab composers of the 14th to 17th centuries. The instrumentalists, playing a variety of plucked string instruments, hand drums and flutes, come from Turkey, Syria, Azerbaijan and Egypt. One of the singers comes from Turkey, the other from Syria. To prepare for the project, Weiss moved temporarily from Aleppo to Istanbul in Turkey, where he laid the groundwork with singer Dogan Dikmen. The album was recorded, impeccably, in Montreuil, France in 2006.
In the 1950s, the musicologist Ergun Karadeniz wrote that "Arab music does not exist, it is merely Turkish music badly played." But Karadeniz was Turkish. Sure, the music here was created during the time of the Ottoman empire, which was ruled from modern day Istanbul. But Ottoman high culture was supremely inclusive: without Persian, Indian or Arabic input, its classical music would sound very different.
Le Chant du Monde has simultaneously reissued three other double-disc sets by Al Kindi: Arab Music From the Time of the Crusades, Aleppian Sufi Transe and Whirling Dervishes of Damascus. These, too, are performances of beauty, but are more arcane. Two of them were recorded during actual dervish ceremonies, and, because we cannot see the dancing which the music accompanies, are slower to reveal their charms.
Parfums Ottomans is the place to start or, perhaps, pick up the threads laid down by Time Out and Kind of Blue.
Tracks: CD1: Taqsim Tanbur Neva; Bashraf Zenjir Husseyni; Nuage De Lune; Melodrame Dans Le Serail; Kulli Kulliyat; Taqsim Kemance Huseyni; Bashraf Neva Feri Muhammas. CD2: Ghazal Turc Neva; Taqsim Tar Iraq; Transe Du Crepuscule; Djalla Man Ansha Jama'alak; Bashraf Iraq Sama'i.
Personnel: Julian Jalaleddin Weiss: qanun; Dogan Dikmen: vocal; Omar Sarmini: vocal; Malik Mansurow: tar; Ozer Ozel: tanbur; Zyad Qadi Amin: nay; Qadri Talal: ud; Aslihan Ozel: kemance; Adel Shamseldin: riqq; Kateine Shamseldin: daff.