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Live Reviews

Istanbul Jazz Festival: Istanbul, Turkey, July 3-19, 2012

By Published: August 1, 2012
July 18: Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette

If a large proportion of the program bore only a loose connection to jazz (if at all), the clear headline act was proof that the Istanbul Jazz Festival is committed to bringing world-lass jazz to the people of Turkey.

Following deafeningly clear requests in both Turkish and English languages for audience members to refrain from taking photos or recording footage they will most-likely never watch anyway, pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette appeared stage left a few minutes after 8.00pm at the elegant Haliç Congress Center.

Accurately billed as "the most important jazz pianist alive," Jarrett was unmistakably the main draw for the Istanbul crowd, despite the fact that these three well-established musicians have played together since 1983. The trio appeared in Istanbul for the first time in 16 years; its last concert in the city, also at the festival, was back in 1996.

For the next two hours, Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette glided through astonishing improvisations and unique renditions of jazz standards peppered with classical music flourishes. They began with an improvisation in which Jarrett, seated with his back to the audience, strove to create tension and simultaneously deconstruct melody. Peacock and DeJohnette displayed a sureness of touch that informed the audience it was in the hands of absolute masters. Regardless of the rapturous applause from the audience, no one in the room could have been enjoying the improvisation more than Jarrett himself. His enthusiasm at the piano during this first piece was pure joy to watch and near impossible to describe.

After the lively start, on "Yesterdays" the three-headed organism on stage appeared to acclimatize. Jarrett was poised to dive into his Steinway, Peacock's arms morphed into the shape of a double bass and DeJohnette's hands began to resemble round drum forms. The three musicians were literally turning into their respective instruments before our very eyes and ears.

A playful, boppy and often groovy performance of "G-Blues" preceded the hushed, delicate tones of lullaby "Little Man You Had A Big Day." The gentle swing of "One For Majid" was stretched and twisted to become an test of skill and communication between the musicians. Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette passed with flying colors.

The second set of the evening comprised "Last Night When We Were Young," "I'm Gonna Laugh You Out Of My Life," Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
1920 - 2012
's "In Your Own Sweet Way" and Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
's "Things Ain't What They Used To Be," before a encore of "When I Fall In Love."

After a stern telling-off—first from DeJohnette and then Jarrett—over the use of cameras, the festival crowd quietly left the luxurious setting of the Haliç Congress Center just as the final Adhan (the Islamic call to prayer emitted five times a day) could be heard via loudspeakers across the city. The audience members, satisfied with having witnessed the most impressive performance of their festival so far, disappeared back into the sprawling metropolis of modern day Istanbul.

July 19: Morrissey

The final slot of the two-week festival has previously been filled by popular vocalists Nick Cave, Elvis Costello, Lou Reed and Paul Simon
Paul Simon
Paul Simon
. This year was the turn of outspoken pop crooner Morrissey.

Ever the provocateur, a mature-looking Morrissey appeared wrapped in the Turkish flag and backed by his youthful band (guitarists Boz Boorer and Jesse Tobias, bassist Solomon Walker, keyboard player/trumpeter Gustavo Manzur and new drummer Eric Lewis Gardner), who dutifully arrived wearing matching red t-shirts with "ASSAD IS SHIT" emblazoned across them in criticism of Bashar al-Assad, President of neighboring Syria.

A truly unique and uncompromising artist, Morrissey performed before a capacity crowd at Istanbul's historic Cemil Topuzlu Open Air Theatre. The enthusiastic audience, consisting largely of university students, was treated to a twenty-song set bursting with classics from the singer's extensive back catalogue; among the highlights of the evening were "How Soon Is Now?," "Everyday Is Like Sunday," "You're The One For Me, Fatty," "Shoplifters Of The World Unite," "Ouija Board," "Still Ill," "Meat Is Murder" and "I Know It's Over."

The set was also densely populated with numbers from Morrissey's mid-'00s comeback period, chosen perhaps to satisfy the relatively young audience present, who may be less familiar with the material he recorded as front man of The Smiths. Songs like "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris," "When Last I Spoke To Carol," "Black Cloud" from Years of Refusal (Decca, 2009) and "I Will See You In Far Off Places" and "You Have Killed Me," from Ringleader of the Tormentors (Sanctuary, 2006), were all warmly received.

Morrissey appeared relaxed, playful and thoroughly charming throughout the performance and even treated the responsive crowd to a live airing of new song "People Are The Same Everywhere" and his rendition of "To Give Is The Reason I Live," originally recorded by Frankie Valli for Timeless (Mercury, 1968).

For the international visitor, Istanbul offers so much more than other European cities, which cannot claim to form part of more than one continent. The city's turbulent history, political tension, sweltering July heat and rich cultural all play key roles in the experience of spending even a short time in the city.

The Istanbul Jazz Festival has gone from strength to strength over the past two decades. Not only does it consistently provide Turkish jazz musicians an opportunity to be heard outside the country's borders via visitors to the city (both jazz professionals and the general public) and collaborations such as The Istanbul Project, the remarkable list of international guests provides year-round, world-class live music and Istanbul is all the better for it.

Photo Credits

Page 1, The Istanbul Project: Mustafa Onder

Page 1, Sharon Jones: Emre Mollaoglu

Page 1, Ayşe Gencer: Fatih Kucuk

Page 2, Keith Jarrett: Emre Mollaoglu

Page 2, Morrissey: Mustafa Onder

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