Turkish multi-instrumentalist, composer and ethnomusicologist Mehmet Ali Sanlikol has a wide variety of interests and clearly isn't afraid to think big. His second album, Resolution features two distinct ensembles: a 19-member jazz orchestra and a 12- member jazz combo. Each track, except for "A Dream in Nihavend" and the set closing "Love Theme from Ergenkon," features jazz luminaries such as Anat Cohen, Dave Liebman, Tiger Okoshi, and Antonio Sanchez as guest soloists. And, despite Sanlikol's liberal application of electronics and ethnic folkloric instruments such as the ney and zurna throughout, the result is a high-precision contemporary jazz big band outing quite obviously in the lineage of Bob Brookmeyer and (to a lesser extent) George Russell; both Sanlikol's mentors at the New England Conservatory. While much of the albummost notably "The Turkish 2nd Line," "A Dream in Nihavend," "The Niyaz Suite," and "Love Theme from Ergenkon"is replete with references (both direct and indirect) to the music of Sanlikol's native country, the music on Resolution is indisputably part of the jazz firmament, and even takes on aspects of fusion and R&B with varying degrees of success.
Cohen's feature "The Turkish 2nd Line (New Orleans Çiftetellisi)" is a funky synthesis of a well- known belly-dance rhythm (fueled by the leader's oud) with, as the title suggests, that New Orleans second line thing. Unpredictably, the piece opens up into a brisk swing. Cohen's clarinet rides gracefully over all of it, growling down and dirty on the funky parts, waxing Middle Eastern with George Lernis' percussion in the background, and careening beautifully over the swinging big band. As always, Liebman delivers a sparkling and inspired performance. The three part "Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Jazz Orchestra in C" is the most conventionally Western- sounding piece on the album though it has some really interesting quirks. Crafted with Liebman specifically in mind, the concerto borrows its structure from early Baroque music. Sanlikol's use of clavinet and harpsichord and Phil Sargent's crunchy wah-wah guitar give it an air of a 70s art house movie soundtrack. That is not a bad thing.
The piece with Okoshi and Sanchez, "The Niyaz Suite," might be the most successful melding of Middle Eastern and Western musics on the album. The first three-and-a- half minutes is devoted to Sanchez' brilliant drum improvisation. As the band kicks in, Sanlikol's ney and zurna join the horns in the front line; a really cool sound that works extremely well despite a bit of volume imbalance between the gentle sounds of the Middle Eastern instruments and the harder-edged saxophones and trumpets. Sanlikol solos eloquently on the continuum fingerboard, which he describes as "a flat- surfaced synthesizer that allows me to play Middle Eastern ornamentations impossible on a standard keyboard." It sounds like a very tricked out Mini-Moog here. Okoshi is out front on Part 2 of "The Niyaz Suite," a funky waltz with a zurna-led melody. Okoshi follows the leader's excellent zurna solo with an acrobatic solo that had me scratching my head in wonder. Why isn't Tiger Okoshi making more albums?
As ambitious and far reaching as Sanlikol's music is, there bound to be some aspects that aren't to everyone's liking. The R&B / reggae-inspired "Whirl Around" features an excessively melismatic vocal exchange between Sanlikol and Nedelka Prescod that left this listener cold. The leader's wordless vocalizing on "A Dream in Nihavend" also seemed to go on far too long. On the other hand, Sanlikol's pared-down vocals, backed only by acoustic piano and, later in the piece, by a horn chorale on the understated CD-closing 'Love Theme from Ergenekon" are far more appealing and effective.
The Turkish 2nd Line (New Orleans Çiftetellisi), A Dream in Nihavend, Whirl
Around, Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Jazz Orchestra in C - I.
Funk, "Rebellion"; II. Ballad, "Reminiscence"; III. Up-tempo Swing,
The "Niyaz" Suite - I. A Jazzed Up Devr-i Revan; II. An Afro Semai; Love
Jazz Orchestra (1, 4-6): Mehmet Ali Sanlikol: keyboards, Moog Prodigy,
cumbus, oud, percussion; Anat Cohen: clarinet (1); Dave Liebman:
saxophone (4-6); Mark Zaleski: alto saxophone, flute, clarinet; Dave
alto saxophone, clarinet; Rick DiMuzio: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Aaron
tenor saxophone; Jared Sims: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Mike
Jeff Claasen, Jerry Sabatini, Tom Halter: trumpets, flugelhorns; Chris
Clayton DeWalt, Tim Lienhard: trombones; Gabe Langfur: bass trombone;
Artun: piano; Phil Sargent: electric guitar; Fernando Huergo: electric bass;
Bertram Lehmann: drums; George Lernis: percussion.
Jazz Combo (Tracks 2-3, 7-9): Mehmet Ali Sanlikol: vocals, keyboards,
continuum fingerboard, Moog Prodigy, piano, ney, zurna, percussion;
Prescod: vocals (3); Tiger Okoshi: trumpet (7-8); Antonio Sanchez: drums
8); Mark Zaleski: alto saxophone, alto flute, clarinet; Jared Sims: baritone
saxophone, bass clarinet; Tucker Antell: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Jeff
Jerry Sabatini: trumpet, flugelhorn; Chris Gagne: trombone; Uhar Artun:
Phil Sargent: electric guitar; Fernando Huergo: electric bass; Bertram
drums; George Lernis: percussion.