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

Istanbul Jazz Festival: Istanbul, Turkey, July 3-19, 2012
James Pearse By

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Istanbul Jazz Festival
Istanbul, Turkey
July 3-19, 2012
Istanbul, the second largest city in the world, has become an important meeting point in countless ways.

Founded in around 660 BC by King Byzas, captured by the Romans and later by Sultan Mehmed II to become the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul was, despite its size and strategic location, inexplicably overlooked in favor of Ankara as the nation's capital when the Republic of Turkey was declared in 1923.

Despite its "second city" status, Istanbul has grown substantially since the 1920s. Today home to more than 13 million people, the city sits (geographically) on the edge of Europe. The western half city neighbors Greece and Bulgaria, while the massive Anatolia region is in Asia. The two continents are divided by the mighty Bosphorus river— one of the world's busiest waterways.

Since the 1970s, the privately run Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) has capitalized on the city's rich musical heritage and popularity as a film location and has worked tirelessly to establish Istanbul as a major cultural hub in the region.

Istanbul enjoys a rich history of well educated, highly skilled and adventurous artists and the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) has provided an array of arts, theatre and design festivals for forty years.

İKSV's Istanbul Jazz Festival has been held every year since 1994. Currently under the leadership of director Pelin Opcin, the festival features jazz, pop, rock and world music and attracts somewhere in the region of 50,000 people to some 30 concerts held at various historical and outdoor venues around the city every July.

Among the headline jazz artists hosted by the Istanbul Jazz Festival since its inception have been saxophonist Ornette Coleman, pianists Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Diana Krall and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

"One of the primary goals of the Istanbul Jazz Festival has been to encourage the production of jazz music in Turkey and contribute to its promotion abroad through such special series as the European Jazz Club, Young Jazz and Encounters with Masters, where we bring together well-known musicians from Turkey and around the world to play together," says Opcin.

This year's program was as eclectic as it was impressive. On one side of the musical spectrum were sensitive pop artists Antony & The Johnsons and Morrissey, while on the other side were soul and R&B stars Erykah Badu and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings.

Jazz-wise, the festival secured headlining pianist Keith Jarrett with his Standards Trio, featuring bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette—returning to the city after a 16-year absence—Grammy Award-winning bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding (2011 Best Artist of the Year), German bebop/jazz fusion trumpeter Till Bronner and Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson, who presented his classical-meets-jazz album Liberetto (ACT, 2012).

This year's "Encounters With Masters" performance featured oud player and singer Dhafer Youssef, who was invited to present Dance Of The Invisible Dervishes, featuring clarinetist Hüsnü Şenlendirici and kanun player Aytaç Doğan.

Celebrating 40 years of the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts was The Istanbul Project, which featured bassist Marcus Miller, accompanied by some of the most prominent musicians in Turkey: clarinetist Hüsnü Şenlendirici, percussionists Burhan Öcal and Okay Temiz, trumpeter İmer Demirer, and guitarist Bilal Karaman. The remaining members of the ensemble were all Miller regulars: guitarist Adam Agati, saxophonist Alex Han, keyboard player Federico Gonzales Pena, drummer Louis Cato and trumpeter Michael "Patches" Stewart, who has played with Miller for nearly 20 years— most recently on the albums Marcus (Concord Jazz, 2008), Free (Dreyfus Jazz, 2007) and Silver Rain (Dreyfus Jazz, 2005). The whole show was recorded and the festival team, along with Miller, is currently considering a commercial release.

Chapter Index
July 17: Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings / Ayşe Gencer Band Feat. Dimitry Baevsky

July 18: Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette July 19: Morrissey

July 17: Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings / Ayşe Gencer Band Feat. Dimitry Baevsky

Preceded in earlier editions of the festival by global pop acts such as Massive Attack, Björk, Bryan Ferry and Grace Jones, the last week of the festival was a diverse one, with concerts from local Turkish jazz acts, soul/funk band Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, jazz heavyweights Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, and a closing performance by Morrissey.

On a balmy Tuesday night in Istanbul's Silahtar neighborhood, which sits at the confluence of the Kağıthane and Alibeyköy rivers and the Golden Horn, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings took confidently to the waterfront stage at the Santralistanbul Kıyı Amfi.

In an area lined by working class housing estates and a complex network of terrifying five- lane roads dominated by speeding taxis and police cars, the popular funk/soul big band raced through "Broadway Combination," "Sideburns," "He Said," "Broken Hearted Man," "New Shoes," "Things Got to Get," "Still Be True" and "Money," as well as several others.

A no-alcohol policy, apparently enforced to appease local residents and councilors, did not seem to inhibit the excitable crowd, which whooped and hollered at every opportunity. Several members of the public were invited to dance on the stage and the impressive Jones and her band managed successfully to reach new heights of audience participation from start to finish.

Swelling the number of people on stage to nearly twenty, big-haired girls were invited to shriek, guys to shout and everyone else to shake their "thing" to the well-rehearsed rhythms of Brooklyn's eleven-member-strong Dap-Kings (including backing vocalists Starr and Saundra, also known as The Dapettes).

One lucky participant even took the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend from the stage. From her seat at the rear of the venue, she appeared to make gestures that indicated a positive response to the gesture.

Later on the same evening, it was time for the European Jazz Club, held at the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts' own newly built, and rather stylish, venue, Salon. The previous two weeks had seen Tamer Temel Quintet (featuring Matthias Pichler), Baki Duyarlar Quartet (featuring trumpeter Eric Vloeimans), Oğuz Büyükberber (featuring Simon Nabatov), Wolter Wierbos and Tobias Klein and Bilal Karaman (featuring Lars Danielsson) all perform at the intimate jazz spot. That night's featured artist was Russian alto saxophonist Dimitry Baevsky, who joined Ayşe Gencer and her band.

Opening with "Luiza," the elegant Turkish singer, dressed in a flowing white gown, illuminated the dark club with songs from her debut album But Beautiful (Aisha Records, 2011). Gencer's sultry vocals were supported the whole time by local pianist Serkan Özyılmaz, who displayed a light, delicate touch as a contrast to the robust and punchy style of trumpeter İmer Demirer.

"I Didn't Know What Time It Was" and "Don't Explain" preceded an accelerated rendition of "It's All Right With Me," which provided guest saxophonist Dmitry Baevsky ample opportunity to showcase his perky, often-explosive alto style.

Baevsky, whose first album, Introducing (Lineage Records, 2004), featured pianist Cedar Walton, bassist John Webber and drummer Jimmy Cobb as contributors, appeared confident throughout the show but rather serious-looking and somewhat humorless. Largely avoiding eye contact with the audience, Baevsky chose to communicate though his horn. He did this superbly on "Give Me The Simple Life," which was stretched nearly beyond recognition during a dynamic, fun and often brilliant rendition replete with solos from all three members of the rhythm section.

After a pair of somber Turkish-language ballads, the good old American Songbook was explored further with "Here's That Rainy Day," "Love For Sale," "But Beautiful" and "All Of Me" making up the rest of the set.

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's "In Your Own Sweet Way" and Duke Ellington'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. 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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