Review by Dawoud Kringle
In the past, I reviewed Turkish oud master Mehmet Polat’s, who lives in Amsterdam (Holland), releases Ask Your Heart, Next Spring and Quantum Leap. I had come to expect Polat to come up with something different and amazing each time he released new music. This is no easy feat for the oud; an instrument that expresses itself in a very specific way. I was curious to hear what new music Polat would come up with.
He does not disappoint.
On this release, Polat is joined by Alper Kekeç (frame drums and darbuka – track 3,4,7,8), Cemil Qocgiri (tenbur – track 10), Daniel van Huffelen (bass – track 1,6,12), Elnur Mikayılov (kamancha – track 5), Joan Terol Amigo (drums – track 1,6,12), Mikail Aslan (vocals & clarinet – track 10), Ruven Ruppik (Cajon, Bombo legüero, Snare, Doira, Gome, Udu, Effects, cymbals and palmas – track 2,5,10), Shwan Sulaiman (vocals – track 8), and Sinan Arat (ney – track 4).
“Firefighters” opens the collection. In the liner notes, Polat described it as an exploration of his jazz background. However, the beginning sounds to my ears like phrasing somewhat reminiscent of progressive rock, with the maqam melodic content intact. There is a joyful aggression here; like young men blowing off energy in loud and violent playfulness completely free of any emotion other than friendship and fun. Terol Amigo and van Huffelen match Polat’s musical attack with the same exuberance and joy.
This is followed by “Nature Hits Back.” This title suggests the same kind of energy that “Firefighters” displays. But here, Polat goes for a more subtle approach to the song’s message. Rather than representing and recreating the power of nature responding to humanity’s abuse, it is more of a lament; an emotional response to the inevitable. The oud weeps with regret and snarls in anger at what we have done to the earth.
Polat described the next track “Pathfinder,” as a dedication “to the beautiful people who have had a generously positive effect on my life.” With only Kekeç’s frame drum as accompaniment, Polat navigates the nuances of the maqam, which to my ears untrained in maqam, resemble a phrygian mode, or the inherent emotional versatility of raga Bhiravi.
Sinan Arat’s ney is featured on “Footprints.” Its haunting and otherworldly sound compliments Polat’s percussively played oud part beautifully. The song builds to an intense, yet dreamy climax, and ends like incense smoke fading away in a light breeze.
“Permission” is an unexpected departure from the previous tracks. Here, Polat leads the ensemble in a bulerias (a Flamenco rhythmic groove), playing a composition in Afshari ( one of the branches of Dastgah-e Shur in Persian classical music). Mikayılov’s kemancheh solo adds the right blend of unity and contrast.
From here, Polat becomes bolder and more adventurous. “Swinging in Hands” brings jazz and African structures to this musical world. Shwan Suleiman’s vocals bring out a new depth of meaning on Ibrahim Ahmed’s ghazal “Being the Voice.” Qocgiri’s tembur, and Aslam’s vocals head an ensemble on the multi-leveled “Nêterseno.”
A real surprise (and to some people, perhaps a shock) is “Symbolisms.” Here, Polat runs his oud through a looper, delay, and distortion. While I’m sure someone else has attempted this, I cannot recall hearing this being done. And while the use of distortion on an oud may be debatable (perhaps another effect, such as one of the new synthesizer pedals, pitch shifter, or even lightly applied ring modulator would respond better to the tonal qualities of the oud), it leads the oud into a new territory, and dares those who follow to find new means of musical expression in this going-against-the-grain approach to tradition. The boldness and musical adventurousness of this attempt cannot be underestimated.
Polat, as a soloist, and leading the truly excellent musicians he assembled for this recording, has created another masterpiece. It is amazing to contemplate how he continually presents himself with all manner of musical challenges, cultural collages, and emotional labyrinths, and executes the music with masterful ease. This is a delight to listen to.
Previous CD reviews
CD Review: Mehmet Polat Trio (Turkey/Mali)…a spiritual yet adventurous meeting of three masters of their magical instruments (ney, kora and oud)