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Dispatches from Istanbul / 2022 Akbank Jazz Festival (2)

Francesco Martinelli’s second report from Akbank Jazz Festival in Istanbul (24 September-9 October 2022)

Atatürk Cultural Center in Istanbul. Photo credit A.Savin, WikiCommons

The 32nd edition of the Akbank Jazz Festival saved some of its more famous names for the second week, with acts such as the Aymée Nuviola/Gonzalo Rubalcaba duo and Abdullah Ibrahim. One of the festival’s main aims has always been to bring international bands to the local Istanbul audience, while at the same time introducing lesser known, more adventurous projects. 

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One such act was the trio of Israeli guitarist Ofer Mizrahi, cellist Mayu Shviro and double bassist David Michaeli. Playing a modified guitar that can sound like a sitar, singing and playing the trumpet, Mizrahi is a multi-talented, unique personality (although his singing style can be an acquired taste). He also goes quite heavy on sharing his moral principles that, whilst admirable, would be better expressed in the music than tediously explained in small sermons. His musicianship and the quality of the trio is above reproach though, the way he alternates different tuning systems is fascinating and he also played some pieces inspired by Turkish folksongs. He was however misplaced at the Babylon, on Yom Kippur of all days, where the beer-toting customers were looking forward to a groovy evening. Sparsely populated at the start, the room was quite empty at the end, with only dedicated followers still enthusiastically clapping.

The recently renovated Ataturk Cultural Center in Taksim Square was sold out for piano legend Abdullah Ibrahim’s solo concert. An hour-long meditation on music, with a strong gospel feel, mesmerised an audience made up of many young members as well as established musicians of the Turkish jazz community. 

The following concert took place uptown at the Zorlu Center – a huge complex with restaurants, cinemas, shops and concert halls: the smaller hall featured Nuviola/Rubalcaba, while in the larger a Turkish rap festival was taking place with a programme including the celebrated Ceza. It might seem incongruous to organise a jazz concert there but in fact the concert hall has top quality equipment, excellent sight lines, is easy reachable with the metro and offers a bit of a sanctuary from the bustle of the city outside. 

Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Aymée Nuviola. Photo credit: Sarp Dökmeci

The Nuviola/Rubalcaba combination gave the expected scintillating show, with many songs from their two live albums, a spectacular combination of musicianship, humour, inventive power and imagination, reinventing Cuban boleros or channeling Tatum, Monk and even Cecil Taylor. Rapturous applause.

Across the hall in the club Touché, and unconnected to the festival, a quartet of Turkish musicians led by pianist and singer Uraz Kivaner played their Chet Baker Tribute to a full house. With Engin Recepoğulları on tenor, Ozan Musluoğlu on bass and the very in demand Ferit Odman (again) on drums, the quartet went through songs associated with Chet Baker without imitating the original style. This club must be added to the list of those making up the thriving Istanbul jazz scene.

LINK: Akbank Jazz Festival website

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