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Istanbul Jazz Festival 2018

Luke Seabright By

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Istanbul Jazz Festival
Vitrin: Showcase for Contemporary Music from Turkey
Various Venues
Istanbul, Turkey
June 27-30, 2018

A leisurely stroll through the crowded streets of Istanbul offers many delights, Turkish or otherwise. The maze guides you through nested teahouses, majestic ottoman palaces, monumental sahns adjoining mosques with exquisite interiors; down narrow covered market streets with their incongruous juxtaposition of goods and gadgets, steep cobblestoned alleys, and traffic-clogged avenues, all the way down to the busy waterfront. While Istanbul's reputation as a sprawling bee-hive of a metropolis is certainly accurate, it is also remarkably suited to producing that unique mood captured by the emblematic Turkish word keyif, the state of pleasure and serenity that comes from taking things at one's own pace. The sights of Istanbul offer many rewards to anyone who takes the time to idly absorb them. The city's sounds will enchant the active listener, and with the 25th edition of the Istanbul Jazz Festival now well under way, these sounds are in full swing.

A quarter century of jazz

The Istanbul Jazz Festival turns 25 this year, and the anniversary is being celebrated in style. The festivities last for a little over three weeks, with a world-class programme of artists from the worlds of jazz, rock and folk music (headliners this year include Melody Gardot, Robert Glasper's new supergroup R+R=NOW, Robert Plant and Badbadnotgood). Part of the festival's mission has always been to provide a platform and an international collaborative environment for established and emerging musicians from Turkey. For the second year running, the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV) has organised "Vitrin: Showcase for Contemporary Music from Turkey," to which All About Jazz was invited as part of an international delegation of industry professionals. As was the case last year, it was a tremendous success and showcased a wonderfully selected display of local talent.

There are many ways in which one can explore a place as dense and multi-layered as Istanbul, and with its wide range of programmed events in multiple venues scattered across the city, Vitrin provided an ideal itinerary for a journey of (re)discovery. The opening night took place in IKSV's Salon, located in the heart of the historic neighbourhood of Galata. To kick off the evening, Vienna-based producer Levni concocted intricate beats and expansive electronic textures for singer and long-distance creative partner Lara Di Lara to sketch and superimpose her soulful vocals on. In a promising sign of the diverse program awaiting us, the duo's trip-hop flavours, all part of their latest project Alike Places, transitioned into snappy modern fusion once Çağrı Sertel made it to the stage.

Muscular piano-bass ostinatos, sparkling drum accompaniment from the spell-binding Volkan Oktem, and explosive solos all around (at points Sertel's hands could be seen bouncing off his synth in lightning speed frenzies) made for some thoroughly entertaining, high-intensity jazz-rock jams, while Sertel's more mellow, impressionistic compositions provided ample space for the hauntingly expressive tone of Sarp Maden's guitar. Maden is today one of the mainstays of the Turkish jazz scene and another of his disciples, Ercument Gul, played on the same stage a couple of days later. Having learned from other great masters such as Erkan Oğur and absorbed a variety of styles into his guitar playing (from rock and R&B to modern jazz), Gül today has two successful solo albums to his name, and performed a selection of his own compositions with his quartet, offering up some subtly crafted, funk-infused jazz fusion.

Istanbul's voices

The aural landscape of Istanbul is quite unique. The unavoidable cacophony of the sprawling traffic, the signature ding of the city's tramways, the latest Turkish pop songs blaring out of stores and coffee shops, and the permeating sounds of voices. The simit sellers, the fish and bread vendors, the market chatter, and of course, the powerful muezzin calls. Istanbul is a vocal city, and voices were on display throughout Selen Gulun's "Women's matinee" concert. The pianist and vocalist led her quintet down a variety of stylistic alleyways, from post-bop, to bossa and calypso grooves, to pop ballads, sprinkled with passages of atonal improvisation.

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