As we leave another Istanbul Jazz Festival behind, arguments similar to those in the previous years arose once more. I have heard complaints and worries that this historic festival no longer represents jazz well, and that some followers aren’t too satisfied with the program this time around. However, we should mention that IKSV has been experiencing a special and tough situation with their security concerns for the past few years. The program we have seen is a selection from the few musicians who have accepted to come to Istanbul. Maybe arguing that this is “Better than never” is inevitable under these conditions.
The festival management has taken some steps according to the critique they received (and that I also agree with) during their stagnant period. The festival is enriched by Young Jazz, Vitrin and similar expansions, and became more participative. On the other hand, new audiences were attracted through the use of some new venues that weren’t used as concert venues before. More local musicians performed more frequently. Some events became free of charge.
In all honesty, I still have some complaints as well, but I also think that it is unfounded to idealize the festival and to task a foundation with fulfilling every single expectation. Istanbul, despite its problematic situation, is a huge jazz stage on which many jazz concerts took place within the year. The audiences can find whatever they might be looking for, if not during one festival then in another or in the program of a concert hall. IKSV used to be the only foundation in its field many, many years ago, and it has the responsibility to lead. There were only a few concerts taking place in the country back then, and as a result, all of these would deemed very valuable and magnificent in a rather exaggerated fashion. A smaller group of people had access to live or recorded music, and thus making the festival a space of discovery and new experience, leaving unforgettable memories in the minds of the audience. The post-concert jam session plans of the musicians would be whispered from ear to ear, and those who could learn which venue to go to would consider themselves lucky. It was a privilege that I have also enjoyed to be able to listen to Pat Metheny perform just a meter away from Gramofon at Tünel. But those times are long gone.
Of course the critiques will continue. One of the rather on-point concerns is the question whether some strategies that other big international festivals also follow, such as glossing over the programs with pop and rock stars, or concerts taking place in open air venues or parks to a distracted audience, might hurt jazz or the how jazz is perceived. I believe the answers will vary depending on the different approaches to this question. Of course, these questions should be directed to different places and in different ways. We could even question whether jazz musicians contribute enough to jazz or not.
A short marathon
The concerts I have attended this year in order to write about them were those by TRT Light Music and Jazz Orchestra, Ronin, Whatsnext? and Antonio Sanchez & Migration. I have found great things things in all, occasionally got carried away, occasionally thought “only if”. These concerts, when viewed as parts of a bigger collective, reminded us that jazz is a genre that can follow wildly different path through the small nuances in the music.
TRT Light Music and Jazz Orchestra* is quickly becoming a tradition with its continuous participation in the festival. Its performance was worth paying attention to this year as well. The guests of the orchestra were bassist Christian McBride, vocalist and pianist Kandace Springs and saxophonist Joshua Redman, who used to be a “young lion” a while ago. The concert started with conductor Kamil Özler’s compositions. Özler received the IKSV Lifetime Achievement Award this year. İmer Demirer took the microphone in-between pieces and congratulated Özler once more in the name of the orchestra, giving us an opportunity to witness the unity of this collective again. The atmosphere warmed up with Özler’s pieces called They Use It, Esintiler, Samba Longa and Chicken Change, then bassist Ozan Musluoğlu gave his seat to Christian McBride, while being applauded by the audience. Christian McBride’s compositions and arrangements were performed during this part of the concert, such as Broadway and Brother Mister. McBride didn’t neglect to tell about the histories and the stories of the pieces during the concert, as he shone bright in the foreground. Then Kandace Springs got on the stage and performed Soul Eyes as a quartet, and The More I See You and When I Fall in Love with the orchestra. The incredible energy of Springs can also be seen in her social media accounts. Her future seems bright, but only time will tell how long Springs will persist as a pianist and as a vocalist. Jazz is a merciless path to follow with its own tough nature, as well as with its producers and its audiences. On the other hand, I should also note that I found McBride’s performance on the bow a bit underwhelming.
I enjoyed McBride’s Shade of the Cedar Tree, one of his best compositions, when Joshua Redman joined in on the performance. The repertoire mainly consisted of arrangements from McBride’s 2011 album Good Feeling; those who are curious about the concert can pay attention to this album. Despite the fact that Good Feeling is rather too traditional for my own taste, the sound of a big orchestra is enchanting in any occasion… We will soon see if the bassist has followed a similar approach in his orchestra album soon to be released. My expectations from TRT Orchestra is for them to jump in a rather risky pool without being accompanied by any vocalists in the first stage. My expectations for the years to come is for a guest musician to write a piece specifically for this orchestra to be performed together. I am one of those who think that these original works should be recorded and sold in different formats at the end of the festival. The festival should delve into these kinds of ambitious projects instead of releasing compilation CDs.
Another concert I have been curiously waiting for was Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol’s Whatsnext?. Whatsnext? was to perform the pianist’s album Resolution (an album I have been enjoying listening to since its release which consists of his own compositions and arrangements) on Zorlu PSM’s Drama Stage. Sanlıkol has been working on creating a hybrid music for a long time and has signed his name under many great works through his search. It is really hard to combine maqam, janissary music, funk and jazz in a delicious way. For years, we have been listening to ‘fusion’ projects lacking in depth, based on the simultaneous playing of both Western and Eastern instruments. These are long forgotten now. Sanlıkol’s project is far from lacking in depth; it is a multilingual search for jazz, in his own words.** However, his performance was a bit underwhelming in some parts. For example, the enthusiasm of Afro Semai, which has been strongly performed in the recordings online and in the album, was lacking. There were some occasional mistakes in the sentences, it seemed likely to me that a few pieces weren’t rehearsed as much. These are touch performances that do not cope well with the smallest of mistakes… Another impression I got was that Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol can now take a step back in this project. Or more accurately, he should be more visible on the piano and work with guest musicians for the vocals and the clarion. I believe that Sanlıkol might also feel more relaxed if he shoulders less responsibilities in this matured project. The project might become more enticing through the participation of guest soloists; Bulut Gülen’s solo was indicative of this. The excitement caused by the ideas behind this music, as well as the high energies of pieces like New Orleans Çiftetellisi and Estarabim, was evident in the concert hall. This is one of the most unique projects we have been following in the recent years.
Other surprises in the festival were Nik Bärtsch and Antonio Sanchez. These are both projects that are played in one set, without compromising on the integrity of the music from the beginning to the end. This is as far as their similarities go; the emotions they stirred up were fundamentally different. On the other hand, I should also note that drummers in both these projects did not stop and showed incredible mental concentration and athleticism. Bärtsch’s Ronin consists of the repetition of small motives and their slow transformation. Almost like the functioning of a machine, it is hard to classify this music; jazz, minimalism, electronic dance music and possible influence of the North… It was introduced as zen funk to the audience once. It was a great pleasure for me to watch this project live; it can take the audience away once they accept to accompany the trance state of the band members. It was clear that Bärtsch also paid attention to how the stage looked and that he has worked with a light engineer. It was almost like a stage show; it suited well to be performed on a stage called the Drama Stage. However, I noticed that I wished for more expanded and solo elements in this life performance, even though this is a familiar and beloved project for me. Antonio Sanchez & Migration took the stage the following day to perform The Meridian Suite, which consists of five parts. This is actually a concert that was postponed from last year. Sanchez was accompanied by Seamus Blake on the saxophone and EWI, John Escreet on the piano, Matt Brewer on the bass and Thana Alexa on the vocals. We were almost like watching a story unfold while listening to The Meridian Suite. I thought different emotions were painted with music during the concert, such as anger, pursuit and doubts. We were flowing in the arteries of jazz with the clear vocals of Thana Alexa and certain parts with Seamus Blake in the foreground. This music has an explosive energy like a quiet sea suddenly foaming up and violently hitting the shores. Though I have to admit that there were parts which made me feel tired from the weight of the suite. Despite this, I didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t let go during the parts which alluded to The Tony Williams Lifetime with the soul of original jazz-fusion! The audience invited the group back on the stage as usual at the end of the concert, but it was futile to do so because the band has expressed that this was the end of the evening through their body language. We should let go of this habit; the audience should be aware that not every concert is suitable for an encore.
It was great being able to watch these valuable projects. We alienated ourselves from our surroundings, even if only for two days, and wandered in the aesthetic world of music. Unfortunately, these beautiful emotions and rich stimulations brought on by music melt away quickly in the problematic recent agendas. Still, one should persistently follow good music.
*You can access Sanat Deliorman’s review of TRT Big Band’s concert from this link:
**You can access the interview our valuable friend and writer Orhan Tekelioğlu has made with Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol from this link: