CD Review: Okan Ersan “NIBIRU”

Okan Ersan CDArtist: Okan Ersan


Label: Self-Produced

Genre: Jazz Fusion

Release Date: 15 August 2019

Music available at: CDBaby, iTunes, Apple Music, Amazon, Tidal, Google Store and major streaming platforms

Review by Fiona Mactaggart

On 20th July fifty years ago, Apollo 11 landed the first two people ever to stand on the moon: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. It is therefore timely that respected jazz fusion guitarist, Nicosia, Cyprus – based Okan Ersan is this summer releasing his third album, the space-themed concept album, NIBIRU.  (By the way, Ersan is the brother of Oytun Ersan whose album I reviewed last year.)

Though born and bred on Cyprus, Ersan’s early musical studies took him to Marmara University in Istanbul, Turkey, since when he has demonstrated a notable non-insularity in his music -making. Collaborating over the years with many outstanding musicians such as Dave Weckl and Ernie Watts, touring the USA, and headlining at many international jazz festivals such as Nanjing Jazz Festival and Leverkusener Jazz Tage, it is perhaps surprising he is not seen more frequently on the US jazz circuit. 

Whilst elsewhere in his music Ersan’s debt to traditional Cypriot music can often clearly be heard, in this latest album, fuelled no doubt by the healthy jazz club scene on Cyprus, NIBIRU’s jazz fusion by contrast looks ‘onwards and upwards’, the inclusion of NASA recorded deep space noises adding to this feel.

Opening with the melodic and resonant ‘6EQUJ5 (Wow Signal)’, Ersan plays this signal as Morse code, which motif permeates the whole, speedy and exciting, piece. Serkan Ozyilmaz’ keys solo is striking, as is Eylem Pelit’s bass contribution. 

Ersan’s fine fusion guitar technique is on display throughout, perhaps never more so than in the second tune, the mid-tempo ‘As Far Away As Possible’, while the spacey ‘Deep Field’ depicts Ersan’s musical response to a specific Hubble image of part of Ursa Major.

The fun, fourth piece, ‘Gravitational Waves’ similarly blends deep space recordings with synthy beeps and squalls, via some exuberant, at times distorted rock guitar. This is followed by the calmness of ‘Transcending’, a delicate meditation on the oneness of all energies.

The title track ‘NIBIRU’ throttles forward again with some nifty rock guitar figures and pacey drumming from the fourth member of the quartet, tireless drummer Volkan Oktem, whilst ‘Space Jungle’ with its cool electronics (or is it recorded space noise?) opening is pleasingly odd, in part due to the alien-sounding vocalisations. 

Interestingly Ersan describes a particular inspiration to NIBIRU as being the 1977 Wow signal, considered to be the first ever received alien transmission from outer space, whilst the album moniker is a mythical planet that, by some, was thought to herald Doomsday. Serious stuff. However, this album is the antithesis of grim, being almost uniformly up-tempo, with it, most of the time, proving impossible to tell apart the recorded deep space noise from the band’s synths.

Whilst this science-loving reviewer enjoyed perhaps most of all the more electronic/ spacey tracks, the entire album has tremendous momentum, the sheer fun of it all perhaps belying the skills of the band and not least of composer Ersan. Should they choose to, it is clear they could move deeper into the jazz of jazz fusion; nevertheless, what they do here they do very entertainingly and very well indeed.