Never mind the bad first impression. It's having two or three in a row that really kills you.
Turkish clarinetist Bülent AltinbaÅŸ has assembled an intriguing collection of ethnic jazz in The Song, but listeners have to get past three opening techno/ambient songs of dubious value to get there. The initial tracks are so at odds with the rest that it's hard to explain them, aside from an ill-advised attempt at broadening the recording's commercial appeal.
AltinbaÅŸ, 34, performing under the nickname of "Kirbi" ("hedgehog" in English), started playing Turkish classical on clarinet as a child and has since expanded into modern music with many of the country's better-known artists. His tonal command is unquestionable in excellence and range, from rich low moans that are almost choral to thin vocal highs, and where they anchor the songs is where the album shines.
The way to appreciate this album, in fact, is to play it in reverse ordera one mouse-click operation on a computerwhich is what I did after the initial listen. This put the eight-minute "Hicaz Improvisation" on top, a classic and masterful demonstration of the clarinet's longtime presence in Turkey's ethical and classical music with minimal ambient backing. The bit of beat appearing on "One Last Time" seamlessly blends into the background, with an ensemble of players collaborating on this concept.
A dreamy synth ambiance clashes a bit thickly with AltinbaÅŸ on "First Night Of Longing," where his role is primarily lyrical rather than improvisational, giving it the lite presence associated with soprano saxophones and smooth jazz radio in the US. But "Clarinet And Piano" proves him capable of commendable ballads, and one can almost hear each player reaching for and clinging to the other's diversely verbose lines (Altinbas goes for the higher tones, resulting in a much more wailing and mournful quality). "The Song Of Angels" splits the difference, high and mournful, but synth-heavy and scant on innovation.
Listening this way I simply quit after the modern/traditional beat clash of "Teardrop," which incorporates about as much techo as AltinbaÅŸ or most ears can absorb comfortably. He solos over it with the grace of a decent smooth fusion player, offering an upbeat if not inspirational escape. The three "final" songs aren't worthy of individual scrutiny.
The Song is a notable step down from AltinbaÅŸ' previous Hüsn-ü Klarnet, which scores highly artistically and commercially. (I found it among a scant collection of kitschy tourist-oriented albums at the airport in Istanbul, and its depth of traditional authentic tonality and modern compositional complexity is exceptional. It's also worth noting he has an earlier live double album, Live in Constantinople, that overdoes the electronics.) But Turkish jazz isn't exactly overflowing in US record bins, so those who want to hear AltinbaÅŸ can check out The Song and know they're hearing at least some of what has earned him so much acclaim at home.