I reached Emirgan through empty streets and avenues. It is a lively, but not loud, neighbourhood. The entrance to Sakıp Sabancı Museum (SSM) is tranquil and the upper deck that was prepared for the concert is spacious. There is a faint remainder of a north wind, the weather isn’t suffocating. It is not easy to find this kind of comfort in Istanbul! I entered the venue for “Ramazan’da Caz” (“Jazz in Ramadan”) concert series with a pleasant feeling in my heart. I waited under “that tree” until the concert’s start. Anyone who has been to SSM would know which tree I am talking about. I had entered a beautiful summer season of jazz.
Jon Balke & Friends and the friends who accompanied the musician were vocalist Mona Boutchebak and percussionist Snorre Bjerck. The trio performed pieces from the composers two projects Batagraf and Siwan. The concert was almost like a brief presentation of Blake’s musical approach, which is a combination of classical music, folk and avant-garde music.A love song from the 11th century, an Andalusian melody, and short examples from polyrhythmic musics from Morocco and West Africa. We could call it a Balke-style stroll through the cultural roots of the southern Mediterranean basin.
I think making these kinds of music with a small band requires a special way of connection on the trio’s part. The relationship between percussion and keys could be a little fuller, and the concert could be a little more riveting in my opinion. The group, thus the audience, wasn’t able to get fully in the mood, but the atmosphere and the tranquility on the stage ultimately lead to a pleasant evening. The concerts highlights were some of Balke’s arrangements and Mona Boutchebak’s performance. This performance made the audience re-contemplate on cultural legacy and togetherness during a period when Middle East and Europe is being torn with violence, fragmentation, immigrant crises and Brexit.