The Secret Trio is one of the most interesting projects of the recent years. It can be considered as a part of the multi cultural musical expansion that have been gaining popularity in the past quarter of the century. This expansion inevitably has different characteristics in every different geography. The personal adventures of the musicians belonging to the particular band carry utmost importance in this musical journey. These musicians, of course, prioritise the musical sources that were born from the cultural climate that expands from their families to their communities. However, as their musical vision develops, inspired by different, modern, experimental world musics, these musicians start creating unique fusions. They toil to achieve original combinations that haven’t been heard before. Technological advancements in the musical field play an important role in this adventure. In conjunction to this, personal experience shapes the resulting sound. The musicians aim to combine and fuse their local and ethnic musical traditions with the main trends and movements of modern music. This genre has developed so much that the audience can frequently encounter projects that enchant and surprise them.
The music industry was intent on calling these expansions “World Music” or “Ethnic Music” and it achieved this. However, these terms were rendered somewhat useless with the rise of independent companies in the past quarter of the century and their production of unique, original and independent sounds. Many striking projects that couldn’t be categorised or bound with these terms started surfacing and influencing. The personal and educational adventures of the musicians started to gain importance.
Music started to morph into something new through the intersection of many cultures. Classical, modern and post-modern jazz and similar genre and forms undoubtedly carry the utmost significance in multiculturalism. These genres were inevitable results of the global capitalist world becoming a “village”. Local, regional and ethnic genres of music are ordinary sources for the industry, whereas the unique sounds produced by these small and independent companies we mentioned are a musical alternative. If you ask me, The Secret Trio is the embodiment of such an alternative. Looking closely at the musical journeys of these musicians, and how all three carry fundamentally different qualities, we will witness how they transform their local instruments into different worldly bodies with utmost deliberation.
Traditional Crossroads, one of the most important independent American firms, is instrumental in the formation of The Secret Trio. Ara Dinkjian, one of these three musicians who met each other in the States, is an oud virtuoso who is well known in the Turkish musical scene. Turkish audiences know him as the composer and musician of some popular Sezen Aksu songs. He belongs to a family who immigrated from Diyarbakir in Anatolia to the United States. His father, Onnik Dinkjian, was a singer in the US. Ara’s family plays an important role in his love for Middle Eastern music and his passion for oud. For those of us who has been interested in jazz and its derivative fusions, we think of the Night Ark band when Ara Dinkjian’s name is mentioned. I wrote an extensive piece about this band in the Jazz magazine several years ago. Back then, its genre was called “World Music” by the industry, yet the band was focused on a very specific fusion sound and experimenting on it. This band consisted of Armenian musicians who aimed to combine their local and traditional music to the art of jazz and beyond and thus created their own very unique sound. Arto Tunçboyacıyan’s contribution in this had been valuable. Dinkjian has always been a influential composer and performance musician who has been surprising the music industry with his innovative approach to Turkish and Armenian music. His musical spectrum expands from traditional and ethnic music to jazz and folk. His music has been dominated by a particular exotic quality. He has been an improvising oud player ever since his youth. Dinkjian aimed to channel this local instrument to a completely different musical course. He developed new methods and gave oud a new style. This way, he positioned the Middle Easter modality on an harmonic structure. This, of course, wasn’t the first musical search he accomplished, but it would become individualised due time along with the style Dinkjian developed. As a result, his individual journey would shape the body of later common projects. Ara also plays many Middle Eastern modality instruments such as Cümbüş (a Banjo-like Turkish instrument) as well as fretless Banjo. There are so many singers who performed his songs, so many musicians he has played with, too many to name. But it is worth mentioning that he played a pivotal role in the Greek singer Elefthieri Arvantaki becoming a star, as well as being the composer and instrumentalist for some of the most popular songs of Sezen Aksu.
The other two accomplished musicians of The Secret Trio are kana (zither) player Tamer Pınarbaşı and clarinet player İsmail Lumanovski. Lumanovski is a Macedonian musician. Both musicians are members of the New York-based band “New York Gypsy All Stars”. They perform modern Gypsy music, enriched by African American characteristics. The Secret Trio, on the other hand, is dominated by Middle Eastern modality because of the backgrounds of the musicians reaching from the Middle East to the Balkans. Both of these musicians are virtuosos who stay true to their local and ethnical musical roots, and experiment through their instruments and compositions. They utilise their multicultural backgrounds.
Pınarbaşı entered the Turkish musical scene when he was around ten years old, in the early 1980s. He was already playing for the most popular Turkish singers at the age of thirteen. He is a rare musician who performed in hundreds of records in such an early age. The kanun (zither) player graduated from ITU (Istanbul Technical University) Turkish Music Conservatory. He improved his technique and style during his education and beyond it. Pınarbaşı currently lives and performs in the United States. His most distinguishing method is playing kanun with his nails instead of ‘mızrap’ (a specific pick used for kanun). He developed a unique style by playing kanun also as a rhythm instrument, as well as a bass. With this personal and unique style, his contribution to The Secret Trio’s sound is invaluable. He plays an important role in forming a bridge between varied modalities and modern Western music genres. His extensive knowledge of the rules and techniques of Western Music undoubtedly play a big role in this. Pınarbaşı can undertake the majority of the responsibility of bass and rhythm in The Secret Trio and his other projects. The improvisation master adds to the character of any project he is a part of through his many talents.
İsmail Lumanovski is Macedonian Romani musician who developed his musical vision through Balkan folklore and Romani music. He connected with Middle Eastern music through his instrument at an early age and was a young and award-winning talent in New York Julliard Music School. The clarinet player combines his folkloric musical background with classical Western Music and jazz and thus achieves a very unique fusion sound. Just like the other two members of the band, he can easily flow between Eastern and Western Music and create a smooth sense of unique fusion. He is also the founder of the previously mentioned “New York Gypsy All Stars”. His musical foundation lies in the modernisation of the gypsy music and the connections he formed with the contemporary musical genres. Pınarbaşı also plays an important role in the formation of this unique sound.
The Secret Trio is a project that stands in the intersection between Middle Eastern and Balkan modalities and rhythms meet classical-modern genres. The talents of its members are neither exaggerated nor downplayed. It is a sort of Chamber Music group. Even though oud, kanun and clarinet are mainly modality music instruments, these musicians combine this with the notion of Western genres through their unparalleled improvisation techniques. They add a jazzy body to Dinkjian’s compositions, as well as to many classical and traditional pieces. The band’s second album “Three Of Us” include pieces “Moments” and “Pieces”, written by Dinkjian 30 years ago and namesake pieces for the first two albums of Night Ark.
The group’s first album “Soundscapes” was released in 2013. One of the most interesting aspects of this album is the prioritisation of the artistic approach brimming with meaning. They ascended the notion of being accomplished musicians and created an association of ideas. Three completely different personalities come together as one and achieve an unparalleled musical harmony. They supported the notion of “Chamber Music” right away through this album. Their music cannot be limited into the industrial categorised we previously mentioned, and yet they are drawn to a more sophisticated understanding of music. They are drawn to the Middle Eastern feeling and this is emphasised in their sound. The musicians own up to the music on a cultural plane, while neither emphasising nor disregarding their personal journeys. They almost toiled to conceptualise “Chamber Music” with a new outlook. This was an effort to combine the individual musical identities of the musicians and their personal approaches. The bridges formed between the small musical ideas of the musicians are very interesting. Their love and talent for improvisation play a role in this. The connection between different musical genres is very apparent. The intersection point between music, feeling and thought lays the foundation for a unique musical structure. Middle Eastern modality and Western Music fuse with each other in the pieces. Western Music plays a deciding role in the technical and musical infrastructure. However, the deep sensitivity created by Middle Eastern music and Balkan music forms the melody and rhythm.
Album consists mainly of Ara Dinkjian’s compositions. As a result, the influences of Middle East, Armenian and Turkish musics are very apparent. Jazz, classical music and improvisation are equally dominant in his compositions. Dinkjian’s arrangements play an important role in forming one singular musical body. His “Slide Dance” piece showcases his musical talents and improvisation skills. The secret bond between the three musicians, as well as the focus on Armenian music and melodies, draws much attention. Lumanovski’s technical virtuosity and details are emphasised in Ara’s “The Invisible Lover” composition. Pınarbaşı and even occasionally Dinkjian undertake the rhythm section’s role. They play in a serene manner, somewhat distant from passion. In “Silent Cue” lyricism is dominant. The fusion sound reaches its peak in this piece. The focal point of “Heart Key” is musical variety. Pınarbaşı and Lumanovski’s aforementioned technical talents and attention to detail are emphasised. This piece is a perfect embodiment of Dinkjian’s complex and wide musical range that lies between Middle East and modern Western Music.
Komitas Vartabed’s “Erangi” marks multiculturalism. The clarinet is in the foreground as a solo instrument in this piece, which is branded with a deep feeling of sadness and has pain seeping deep into the soul of the composition. “Enzeli/ Triumph” is an Armenian folk song which gains a new identity through Dinkjian’s rearrangement. We witness Pınarbaşı’s attention to detail and are surprised by the way he plays kanun as a bass. Lumanovski shows his virtuosity in this piece. Another interesting piece in this album is “Kriti”, which alludes to the East of the world. The piece has its roots in Southern Indian folklore, and we witness the trio draw closer to jazz and improvisation. The piece embodies properties of acoustic jazz fusion music and refers to the 1970s jazz-fusion, even a little to John McLaughlin. Dinkjian brings a new breath to oud, playing it almost like a guitar. The listener understands the musical philosophy of the group while listening to the clarinet’s effective runs in “Kriti”. The band also interpret an American pop classic, Mason Williams’s “Classical Gas”, in this album. It is pleasantly surprising to hear how the group fuses the American pop sound with a Indian folk tune through a musical aura and sensitivity.
“Soundscapes” also showcase two compositions by Tamer Pınarbaşı: “Without You” and “Crosswinds”. These pieces show what a master compositor Pınarbaşı is, as well as being a virtuoso instrumentalist. “Without You” shows the smooth connection and transition between Pınarbaşı makes between Middle Easten modality to jazz and improvisation. It is a refined approach to multicultural music. Kanun is played as a rhythm instrument and merges with oud while trying to achieve perfection. Clarinet is played almost like ney (a Turkish reed instrument) in “Crosswinds”. The piece has a jazzy sound. There are interesting inter-musical runs. Dinkjian proves his mastery over oud with his solos in this piece. The last piece in this album, its namesake “Soundscapes”, is a collaborative composition which shows off the trio’s improvisation styles. Kanun and oud are used as rhythm instruments in this piece. Lumanovski portrays himself as a successful jazz clarinet player. the combination of these instruments played with these styles create a unique feast of improvisation. This piece also is a product of the interest of the musicians in avant-garde music, showing yet another side of the trio.
The Secret Trio remain together ever since their first album. The first album, of course, pointed to a different kind of excitement. The Chamber Music group released their second album “Three Of Us” in 2015. An important point to mention is that this album was released through Kalan Müzik. As mentioned before, two pieces “Picture” and “Moments” who gave their names to two Night Ark albums were featured in this album as well. They were interpreted very differently this time after their creation 30 years ago. Two important Turkish musicians Sezen Aksu and Erkan Oğur were featured in two pieces in this album. The band’s sound was becoming more refined. Two years of experience gave birth to an enriched sense of performance. Again a fusion sound based in modality was being emphasised.
Ara Dinkjian’s five compositions were included in this album. Daily life and sensitivities play important roles in Dinkjian compositions and these five pieces were no different. He composed “Picture” and “Moments” in the second half of 1980s with Night Ark, which was an embodiment of jazz, new age, ethnic and folk musics. These two pieces were rearranged according to the group’s sound. Now these two almost symbolise a totally different understanding of playing. “Picture” reflects the approach of 30 years ago with its jazzy aspects and folkloric colors. It retains its pastoral nature even in this newer interpretation-it alludes to a colourful painting. Erkan Oğur accompanies this classical piece with his kopuz (a Turkish string instrument). Oğur’s individual style contributes heavily to the lyric and pastoral nature of this piece. “Moments” features a newer, and changing interpretation. The sense of sadness in this piece keeps getting deeper and paints a pessimistic picture of death. Oud and clarinet “converse” in a very deep, internal manner in this ballad-like piece that was written with inspiration from memories.
“Homecoming” is the opening piece of this album and is one of Ara’s compositions. He gained national fame in Turkey with this piece. This piece gained more popularity with another name, “Sarışın”, through Sezen Aksu’s singing. This piece is an example Armenian and Anatolian modality music and showcase embellished improvisations by the trio. This piece also demonstrate the performer nature of the trio. Sezen Aksu interprets another Dinkjian composition in this album. Aksu wrote the lyrics for “Benim Karanlık Yanım”, a ballad-like composition. Musical depth and interesting rhythms are very striking—especially when played by oud and kanun.
Ara Dinkjian’s last composition to be included in this album is called “Of Song And Silence”. It is an incredibly colourful piece in regards to its melody, and is embellished with the lyrical conversation of oud and clarinet. Ara’s talent and mastery over oud can be felt in this piece. Clarinet’s interesting runs, along with its jazzy approach and improvisations, contribute to the lyrical nature of the piece. Again, Ara plays the oud similar to guitar in some parts of the piece. Another lyrical piece in this album is the instrumental version of “Benim Karanlık Yanım” (“My Dark Place”). I feel like this second version is more effective.
Just like the previous album, this album features two compositions by the kanun player Tamer Pınarbaşı—“Woodstock” and “The Last Sultan”. “Woodstock” includes very interesting passages. This unique fusion piece includes Middle Eastern modality music as well as flamencos from Andalusia. It is framed by a jazzy approach and improvisations. The musician shows off his avant-garde size with his clarinet improvisations and unique rhythms. It is a very exciting piece with its cultural-musical passages between jazz, Flamenco and Romani musics. It isn’t clear if the reference to “Woodstock” is an allusion to the 1968 soul. “The Last Sultan” has a classical framework, and is enriched by jazzy parts. It also displays the composer’s efficiency and mastery in sophisticad music as well as popular music.
“Ah Le Yar Yar” and “Şinanay” embody many characteristics of modal music and give the trip an opportunity to display their virtuosity. The clarinet player Lumanovski shows his classical music background especially in Chopin’s “Prelude in E-Minor” and Brahms’s “Hungarian Dance no. 5”. Lumanovski plays as the soloist in this pieces, whereas oud is played like a guitar and kanun as a rhythm instrument in the Chopin piece. These piece only add to the richness to these compositions while keeping the soul of the Western Classical Music intact. The Brahms piece becomes incredibly colourful and melodic through Lumanovski’s singing clarinet. Kanun also contributes to this piece with its melodic nature. This is an interesting example to the variety in the trio’s musical vision.
As a result, “The Secret Trio” embodies a deep musical variety, spanning from local, regional and ethnic music through to modern Western musical expansions. Dinkjian, Pınarbaşı and Lumanovski combine their cultural-musical commonalities with their individual identities and created a unique sound with fast and smooth switch between genres. Of course, it is important to note all three musicians are virtuosos. Their understanding of music, emotional depth and individual philosophies about music seep into their sound through their interesting playing styles. They touch upon many genres of music, and keep a keen eye on the Middle Eastern sources and thus create a unique fusion. They do not compromise on their mysticism. I hope they will release another album soon to surprise and amaze us.