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Dispatches from Istanbul / 2022 Akbank Jazz Festival (1)

Francesco Martinelli reports from Akbank Jazz Festival in Istanbul (24 September- 9 October 2022)

HÜM Trio from Norway. Photo by Sarp Dökmeci

Akbank Jazz Festival is a bank-sponsored autumn event in Istanbul. It has been celebrating its 32nd edition this year with a program of concerts from tiny clubs to concert halls across this sprawling and magnificent city of 15 million people.

The festival is organized by Pozitif, the concert agency founded in the late 90s by three young and inexperienced music lovers who fostered substantial changes in the music life of the town with the festival and with their club, Babylon. Now the club has a spacious venue in a fashionable area of the city – the ancient beer factory in Şişli – and left its historical location in the narrow alleys of Beyoğlu.

One of the three founders, Mehmet Uluğ, sadly passed away prematurely nine years ago, and the festival has paid homage to him with a series of memorial concerts, the first one being an historical concert with David Murray’s band, subsequently issued on CD.

r Volkan Öktem’s quintet at Babylon. Photo credit: Sarp Dökmeci

This year the concert was by drummer Volkan Öktem’s quintet, a decidedly fusionist band inspired by Tutu-style Miles Davis and followers, based on the spectacular, crisp and ferocious drumming of the leader, the arrangements of talented electric bass player Serhat Şensesli, and the improvisations of trumpeter Barış Doğukan Yazıcı. Ercüment Orkut on keyboards and synthesizer opened free-form sideral spaces with his meditative solos, offering a welcome counterpoint to the grooving band. While the concert was well received by the young, SRO crowd, and Öktem offered warm memories of Mehmet, I felt that the night for many of the attendees had a tenuous connection with the person whose memory was being recalled.

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In the afternoon, another sold out concert took place in the cozy auditorium in the cultural center of Akbank, in the crowded pedestrian thorougfare of Beyoğlu, Istiklal Caddesi. The HÜM Trio from Norway offered a program of well-structured compositions by Serbian-born pianist Bojan Marjanovic tightly played with Bjørnar Kaldefoss Tveite on bass and Magnus Sefaniassen Eide on drums. The piano trio format post-Bill Evans continues to attract jazz musicians, maybe for the perfect symmetry of the flexible line-up and the number of possible permutations, and this specific band contrasted a frequent use of rhythmic ostinatos with the freewheeling improvisations of drummer…Dynamic range was exploited to maximum expressive effect in a decidedly impressive set. The festival program, including concerts by Ravi Coltrane and Abdullah Ibrahim among others, continues until October 10.

The band at BOVA. Photo by Francesco Martinelli

At the jazz club BOVA a non-festival gig took place the previous day with top Turkish jazz musicians: Jef Giansily, French keyboardist who now lives here, guitarist Sarp Maden, electric bassist Alper Yılmaz, and in-demand drummer Ferit Odman. While historical jazz club Nardis, near the Galata Tower, continues its excellent programming, BOVA is one of the hippest places for music in the area. It reminds me of Jazz Gallery in New York with its peaceful listening space upstairs while in the street cars are blaring and bars are blasting. Mostly based on Giansily’s well articulated pieces, supported by the perfectly synchronized bass-drum section and illuminated by the lyric, plangent solos by Maden, the set was a success with the student and international crowd that filled the venue.

Istanbul has plenty to offer to record buyers despite the lamented loss of historical Lale Plak store in Tunel. A few steps down the from Tunel, on Galip Dede Caddesi rare vinyls are offered at Mr. Frog while in the nearby Cihangir area for new issues you can go to Opus3A, ECM and Sony distributors for Turkey. There I got a copy of a very cool monthly magazine, LOFT (only available on paper) and a conversation about the Turkish market with knowledgeable co-owner Kerim Selçuk, while young customers were visiting the shop. While on the virtual side another jazz website, easier to access from abroad, opened in Istanbul: Dark Blue Notes (LINK TO WEBSITE).

LINK: Akbank Jazz Festival website

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