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Dispatches from Istanbul / 2022 Akbank Jazz Festival (3)

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

Ravi Coltrane “Cosmic Music” project. Photo by Francesco Martinelli

The spacious, tree-lined streets of the affluent neighbourhood of Suadiye, facing the Prince’s Island on the city’s Asian side (one of Istanbul’s contradictions is that the European side is more Oriental than the Asian side) are filled with cafés and shops. The air is clean and one can walk for miles along the seafront hearing only the waves and the gulls. In an elegant art gallery there, the festival organised a talk – Voices that Time Forgot – where jazz lover Hakan Rauf Tüfekçi, pianist Selen Gülün and guitarist Önder Focan discussed the various happenings that brought fame and then oblivion to a generation of international musicians – as well as similar things that took place on the Turkish jazz scene. The amount of information was huge, which maybe prevented a more in-depth discussion.

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At Zorlu, Ravi Coltrane presented his “Cosmic Music” – an exploration of the works by John and Alice Coltrane with Gadi Lehavi on keyboards, Rashaan Carter on bass and Elé Howell on drums. The concert was neatly divided in two: first a series of John’s pieces including After the Rain and Giant Steps; then some much lesser known compositions by Alice such as Affinity from Transfiguration. Reinterpreted by the brilliant musicians in a totally contemporary way, the pieces revealed new dimensions of expression and emotion in front of the enthusiastic crowd.

Kadinlar Matinesi. Photo by Francesco Martinelli

After the Coltrane concert I ran through the Saturday night throng of Taksim (on Friday and Saturday the metro runs 24 hours a day) where at BOVA I was finally able to catch Kadinlar Matinesi (The Matinée of Women), a project initiated by pianist, composer and singer Selen Gülün – who was back in Istanbul after wandering around the USA, Italy and Japan – with the aim of showcasing the work of female songwriters from different musical genres. With her, Ezgi Daloğlu on saxophone and flute, Kamucan Yalçın on clarinet, Ceyda Köybaşıoğlu on electric bass and Monika Bulanda on drums. They all sing, and this a key aspect of the project – making their voices heard. The effort was amply repaid.

They expressed a whole gamut of sounds and emotions, moving easily from romantic to vitriolic, tender ballad to collective improvisation, which was fed back to them by the enthusiasm of the women in the audience. Feeling the power they unleash on stage makes one realise how much the male dominated world of jazz has lost over the years. I wonder how long it will take for the best European festivals to wake up to this band. 

For the final concert, the Oded Tzur Quartet with the leader on saxophone, Nitai Hershkovits on piano, Petros Klampanis on bass and Otis Brown III on drums played music that was an exercise in restraint. Quiet, concentrated music, mostly modal based, with the leader’s tenor saxophone cooing like a duduk (an old Armenian woodwind instrument), with a sound made of varying pitches and colours more than conventional harmony. Interesting how Indian classical music was a reference for both Israeli bands (although Tzur actually lives in NYC) that played at the festival. Excitement was provided by the open form and daring solos of the pianist, in an intensely physical relationship with the instrument, and the concert closed the festival programme with yet again another success.

LINK: Akbank Jazz Festival website

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