Yes, the boundaries of jazz have spread far beyond any perimeter its early enthusiasts could have envisioned. Yes, the idea for composer / arranger Mehmet Ali Sanlikol's The Rise Up was advanced by saxophonist Dave Liebmanand yes, there's no way to downgrade his jazz credentials. Liebman, Sanlikol says, asked that the piece draw from Turkish and Sephardic Jewish traditions as well as cultural and historical experiences, and feature him as soprano saxophone soloist. Two years later, Sanlikol completed a picturesque suite based on three narratives: those of the thirteenth-century Sufi poet Rumi after the murder of his beloved teacher and friend, Shams; of Sephardic Jews banished from fifteenth-century Spain and welcomed by the Ottoman Turks; and of Mimar Sidan, an orthodox Christian who was kidnapped as a child by the Ottomans, embraced his new Muslim identity and became the architect of some of the world's most renowned mosques.
As a thumbnail sketch of Middle Eastern musical traditions, The Rise Up is admirable. As a facsimile of contemporary jazz, somewhat less so. Having said that, it should be noted that there are well-defined undercurrents of jazz in most movements, and especially on "Rise Thru the Barracks," wherein Liebman displays his impressive chops and Sanlikol proves that the Middle East isn't the only realm in which he can drop anchor and rest easily. The unique orchestral combo Whatsnext? is Sanlikol's variant of a big bandalongside the usual trumpets, winds, trombones and rhythm are the ney, zuna, ud, darbuka, tef, nekkare and kos (commentary about those instruments will not be offered here) as well as oboe, English and French horns, tambourine, castanets, cymbals and tubular bells, all used to good advantage by the composer.
The silhouette ascends softly around "The Sun of Tabriz," with piano and flute ushering the ensemble toward Liebman's nimble soprano, before the temper rises to a fever pitch on "A Vicious Murder" and softens again to underscore "Rumi's Solitude," which ends with Sanlikol's fervent prayer. Seductive Middle Eastern rhythms enliven "Spain, 1492," wherein Liebman's soprano is undergirded by castanets and guitar, the brass add a shout chorus and the castanets have the last word. Utar Artun's lithe piano introduces the dream-like "Temmuz," whose placid mood gives way to a more martial climate underlined by powerful statements from drums and ensemble, an impulse carried forward on "A New Land, a New Music" with more fervent chanting by the leader. This time, it's the drums that seal the narrative. The spirited "Sinan (A Confrontation in Anatolia)" embodies more supernal vocalizing, this time by a chorus, and a dirge-like anthem reminiscent of "The March to the Scaffold" from Hector Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique before veering quickly to "Rise Thru the Barracks" and the closing "Owl Song," a radiant showpiece for Liebman's expressive soprano.
Even though The Rise Up's jazz component is tempered and bound for the most part to Liebman's insular orations, it has much else to recommend it, especially for those whose ears are attuned to the rhythms and harmonies of the Middle East. In other words, it is exquisite music, superbly written and performed, and stars are awarded on that basis.
Rumi (The Sun of Tabriz / A Vicious Murder / Rumi’s Solitude); II. Sephardim (Spain, 1492 /
Temmuz / A New Land, a New Music); III. Sinan (A Confrontation in Anatolia) / Rise Thru the
Barracks / The Owl Song).
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