Album reviews

Erol Pekcan/Tuna Ötenel/ Kudret Öztoprak – ‘Jazz Semai’ (rec. 1978)

Erol Pekcan/Tuna Ötenel/ Kudret Öztoprak – Jazz Semai

(Nova Müzik .Album review by Francesco Martinelli)

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Forty-four years after its original release, the “Jazz Semai” album, widely considered the beginning of Turkish jazz, has been released on all digital platforms as of November 11, 2022. The original pressing of the first edition was a mere 500 copies, so it now sells for hundreds of euros, even in battered condition. This new, clean release will allow today’s listener to appreciate the quality of the music by the trio of drummer Erol Pekcan, pianist/saxophonist Tuna Ötenel and bassist Kudret Öztoprak.

In 1978,Turkey was in the midst of factional violence and the right-wing coup of 1980 was looming. Music was dominated by commercial arabesk or institutionalized folk and classical, so publishing such and album was due to the vision of Nino Varon, musician and producer issued from a Jewish family and close friend of drummer Erol Pekcan, inspired by albums by Komeda in Poland and Iturralde in Spain.

According to drummer and scholar Canan Aykent, author of “Ankara’s Jazz Adventure (1940-1980)” the seminal recording was published in Turkey on the heels of the release in the same year by Sonet in Sweden of Okay Temiz and Don Cherry 1969 live recording at the Turkish American Association and of Nükhet Ruacan’s debut album based on standards songs interpretation. But Jazz Semai is composed entirely of original tunes by Ötenel, except for one folksong, hence its importance.

The music stands the test of time astonishingly well – in fact is sounds fresh and poignant: Tuna Ötenel shines in his amazing versatility and his rendition of ‘Ali’yi gördüm Ali’yi’, a tune by 16th century Turkish Sufi and poet Kul Himmet which inspired generations of Turkish musicians.

LINK: Listen on Spotify

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