Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol & Whatsnext?

CD Review: Mehmet Ali Sanlikol & Whatsnext?

Artist: Mehmet Ali Sanlikol & Whatsnext?
Title: Resolution
Label: DÜNYA
Genre: nu jazz-Turkish music

CD Review by Dawoud Kringle

Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol imageTurkish composer and multi-instrumentalist Mehmet Ali Sanlikol likes to do things big. His work impresses you as being driven by a strong will and a clear musical vision. This Turkish born polymath has an impressive list of credentials and accomplishments, including having composed for, recorded and performed with the likes of Dave Liebman, Bob Brookmeyer, Anat Cohen, Esperanza Spalding, Antonio Sanchez, Tiger Okoshi, The Boston Camerata, A Far Cry string orchestra, American Composers Orchestra, Boston Cello Quartet, Okay Temiz, Erkan Oğur, Omar Faruk Tekbilek and others. He’s the president of DÜNYA, a musicians’ collective dedicated to contemporary presentations of Turkish traditional music. He has made his Carnegie Hall debut in April 2016 premiering his commissioned piece Harabat/The Intoxicated with the American Composers Orchestra, was nominated for a Grammy, and is a CMES Harvard University fellow.

On Resolutions he composed and directed the ambitious ensemble Waths Next?; a jazz ensemble and jazz orchestra with guest artists Anat Cohn (clarinet), Dave Liebman (soprano saxophone), Tiger Okoshi (trumpet), Antonio Sanchez (drums), and Nedelka Prescod (vocals). Sanlikol plays harpsichord, clavinet, Moog, ney, cumbus, oud, talking drum, and water pot, and conducts Whats next?

The first track opens with a drum and guitar figure that swings surprisingly well for a 7/8 time signature. This creates a frame work for Anat Cohen’s clarinet. The horn section rises to the forefront with jazzy colors vaguely reminiscent of vintage Quincy Jones that weave in and out of Cohen’s solo voice. An oud takes up the original guitar figure and shades of Mingus –like horn harmonies dance joyfully with the clarinet.

The melancholy and contemplative mood of “A Dream in Nihavend” takes a Turkish maqam and immerses it in jazz harmony. Sanlikol takes the lead on this piece on this with a flat surface keyboard synthesizer, which allows one to play microtones impossible on a tempered keyboard; and which he sang in unison. The effect is astonishingly beautiful.

The Turkey-meets-jazz vibe is taken into a different direction on “Whirling Around.” With the ney led invocation of the musical essence of the Mevlana Sufis setting the mood, the jazz influence pops in, and Sanlikol and Prescod trade vocals, singing Sufi lyrics, the jazz orchestra taking up the mantle, and Sanlikol’s synthesizer solo (treated with abundant panning in the mix), “Whirling Around” shows the music of the ancient Sufi mystics from a very different perspective.

From this point, things start to take a serious structure. The three movements of “Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Orchestra in G” presents Dave Liebman’s legendary talents within a strict and tightly arranged framework. “The Niyaz Suite” and “Love Theme from Ergenekon” are compelling and powerful pieces.

One is immediately struck by Sanlikol’s astonishing ability to blend two genres of music – orchestral jazz and Turkish maqam – into a seamless blend that does not in any way diminish the subtleties of either. It is an eloquent commentary on the state of affairs in the world: the politics of the “west” and the “east” – or more specifically, the western world and the Muslim world, are absolutely at odds with each other and seemingly irreconcilable. Yet Sanlikol demonstrates how they can work together. Jazz, the American classical music, and maqam, the classical music of the Islamic world, find a meeting place and come together as friends.

Once again, the artists succeed effortlessly where politicians, after centuries of effort, fail miserably.