Northern Cypriot composer and bassist Cahit Kutrafalı’s second album “Transitions” is out. The album, which consists of eight pieces that embody transitions towards different directions, was released through the label A.K. Müzik. It was recorded at Lefkoşa Re-Chord studios in June 2017, and all of the compositions and arrangements are Kutrafalı’s. Kutrafalı is accompanied by established musicians from Cyprus and Turkey once again. Saxophonist Charis Ioannou, drummer Stelios Xydias, guitarist Ermis Michail, pianist and percussionist Andreas Panteli and Tolga Erzurumlu, as well as Cenk Erdoğan, Bulut Gülen, Gürhan Nuray and Elias Ioannou contributed to the album. We asked Cahit Kutrafalı about the “transition” process of his second album.
“Transitions” feels like it is performed live at a club every single time it is listened. Yes, the pieces are written down, but it also feels like you hear chord progressions that keep re-defining themselves. Why is that?
One of the most important reasons is the energy of the musicians I recorded with and their loyalty to the traditional structure of jazz. You had the opportunity to listen to the master takes of the pieces in the album, you would find a different atmosphere and mood if you listen to those that didn’t make it. It is the consequence of working with very talented and special musicians who can interpret everything differently on every single take other than the melodies and unisons written.
For example, “Transitions” and “Metaphor” are up-tempo bebop pieces that value accompaniment while giving plenty of space for solos. On the other hand, “You Never Know” is a fusion piece with mixed references. How did you balance the individual characteristics of pieces while creating a wholesome album?
“Transitions’’ embodies elements that I enjoy listening to and performing, just like my first album “As It Is”. It seems like bebop has lost its popularity in today’s world but I still really enjoy listening to and playing it. On the other hand, I listen to all the movements due to my instrument of choice and follow them with enthusiasm. I had the idea to create a wholesome album when I was composing but honestly I didn’t spend a particular effort to create a balance between traditional and modern approaches. I am happy it is perceived as such, of course…
Compared to “As It Is”, “Transitions” has stronger bass and drum attacks. Morever, “Transitions” has such effective bass solos that this truly became your album. More importantly, how would you define the criteria of these two albums you released in a relatively short period as three years?
I had great feedback after my first album. I was very happy that it is received and accepted as a collective album instead of a bass guitarist album. But as you also mentioned, I can say that I was able to express myself better with this album. There are many reasons to that, of course, but I think the fact that all the pieces in the album were composed recently and thus have a more contemporary context play an important role in this. We can say that the resulting product is something I was able to express my musical ideas clearly in. This is what separates the first album from the second.
You have a noticable tone and technique to attentive ears, even though you have already released two albums. How was it formed? It is evident that it cannot come about solely by listening to bassists.
I started learning about jazz and performing it with bebop and swing. I listened to masters like Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Oscar Peterson, Clifford Brown and Bud Powell for a long time. I transcribed their solos and only played pieces from this period for a while. I think this tone came about due to my wish to play bebop sentences clearly and cleaner, as well as to be able to accompany others without sacrificing much from the bass frequencies… I was influenced deeply by Jaco Pastorius, John Patitucci and Dario Deidda just like every bass guitarist. I am enthusiastically following representatives of our generation such as Hadrien Feraud and Evan Marien lately…
There are many esteemed musicians in the album, how did you bring so many people together?
I feel lucky to have worked with such esteemed musicians for my second album. They are my friends who can feel and hear my music as well as I can at the least. I think we complete each other well because we have worked together on different projects for such a long time. We actually got ready in between our live performances as the pieces were getting ready until the recording period. We finished recording the album with this core members in 8-9 hours in three days. Dear Bulut Gülen was supposed to record live with us but something came up and he couldn’t make it. He came to Cyprus with my musician colleagues Cenk Erdoğan to play Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol’s project 2-3 weeks after that and I picked them up the next day and brought them to the studio.
How did subjects, themes, emotions as well as the music change during the transition from “As It Is” to “Transitions”?
Emotions stayed the same actually. I tried to tell my stories in my own way once again. “Transitions” has an integrity when it comes to sound and composition, this is because it belongs to a recent period. It represents who I am right now better. “As It Is” has pieces I wrote 12 years ago, and its recording spanned over a long period of time. The new experiences I gained musically and what I added to my musical knowledge in the meanwhile would describe this transition better…
Do you think living in Cyprus makes listening and playing jazz easier or harder?
I don’t know how Cyprus looks from the outside, but it is a rather interesting place. The culture and arts events on the southern part of the island is more qualified compared to what us, the Turkish-speaking Cypriots, have access to. There are many great jazz musicians on the southern side like the Greek Cypriot friends I recorded the album with. A serious jazz culture is sprouting on one side of the island, whereas products of popular culture are more favored on the northern side. I play most of my jazz gigs on the southern side after all. I get the most satisfaction both as a listener and as a performer on the southern side. I think us Turkish Cypriots aren’t really concerned with art. Unfortunately, the number of musicians who can produce artistic projects and sustain them are really low. Jazz Futures project ended in 2013, and then there are Jazz Education Abroad program’s workshops that I have been contributing to for the past four years. We can see that Greek Cypriots show a greater interest and participation in these workshops. We will keep on doing our best to make sure this culture takes root in our community.