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Nardis Jazz Club – London Pop-Up by Turquazz (2022 EFG LJF)

Nardis Jazz Club pop-up

(24, Exmouth Market, 19 November, Review by Rachel Coombes)

Ozan Musluoğlu Quartet. Photo by Rachel Coombes

As LJF celebrated its thirtieth birthday with a sold-out show of electronic jazz (or ‘jazz-dance’) at the 6000-capacity venue Printworks on Saturday (REVIEWED HERE), another jazz milestone was being celebrated in more intimate fashion in Clerkenwell: the 20th anniversary of Istanbul’’s renowned Nardis Jazz Club. Masterminded by the nonprofit organisation Turquazz, this pop-up two-day event saw a small space within the Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer (Exmouth Market) transformed into a cosy club environment, echoing the snug feel of Nardis itself. As the Turkish club’s motto goes, “jazz better be listened to in a club.”

Turquazz’s director Batu Akyol joined forces with Nardis’s owners, the guitarist Önder Focan and his wife Zuhal, to showcase the breadth of contemporary Anatolian jazz culture through documentary screenings, a ‘noon raki’ session and live music – complemented throughout by Turkish culinary delicacies courtesy of Fahrettin Acar, chef at the Gallipoli restaurants in Islington. The three live shows on the Saturday (which followed a busy line-up on Friday, including a performance by Önder’s own quartet) were fittingly diverse in musical expression.

Anatolian Fusion Ensemble. Photo by Rachel Coombes

Indeed, Batu’s remark that “Anatolian musicians have the courage to take steps towards integrating an international music genre like jazz with other genres” rang true particularly in the first show, a largely improvised set by the Anatolian Fusion Ensemble. Ozan Baysal produced some wonderful passages of taqsim (prefatory melodic improvisation)on the double-necked bağlama, immersing the audience in a quintessentially Arabic soundscape. His playing style – known as şelpe (an Anatolian technique that dispenses with the plectrum) – allowed for subtle manipulations in tone quality. His long meditative melodic lines were anchored by the sensitive drumming of Burak Ersoz and the gentle electric bass of Bora Bekiroğlu. This calmer lyricism was woven together with passages of stomping hard rock, Anatolian rock and progressive rock elements. The overall effect was of slowly undulating musical wave forms. It was clear that Tolga Zafer, on electronics and keyboard, was in his element experimenting with timbral variations, switching nimbly from celeste-like flurries on keys to resonant synth wails that soared over the musical texture.

The second concert, Female Voices of Turkey, introduced three young singers who are garnering recognition both in Turkey and abroad. London-based Sezin Angelova is clearly inspired by the silky sound of neo-soul singers (from Erykah Badu to Cleo Sol). Sitting poised and perfectly still surrounded by the house band, she sung wistfully about emotion after heartbreak (Nowness – her own composition) and about escaping from the city (Gentle Breeze). The most intriguing number of the set was her bossa nova-tinged arrangement of the Turkish musician Benja Brozel’s song Chains. Sibel Demir, who trained as an opera singer,demonstrated an impressive vocal range, and her lively stage presence was infectious: an energetic version of Sonny Rollins’ St Thomas had the audience clapping along. As a direct nod to her classical training, Demir performed a jazz arrangement of Giulio Caccini’s Ave Maria, which worked well. The band’s trombonist Bulut Gulen and Gianni Boscarino on keys were given ample opportunity to flaunt their prowess.

Dolunay Obruk. Photo by Rachel Coombes

The final singer Dolunay Obruk put on a particularly theatrical performance: drama and eccentricity were her watchwords (and it was of no surprise to learn that she also works as an actress). Obruk’s arrangement of the classic Turkish song Kalamis (by Munir Nurettin Selcuk) fused jazz idioms and vernacular styles to great effect. Three of her own compositions (Bakkal, Korktun Mu and Düğün) demonstrated her mischievous sense of humour; her animated gestural vocabulary translated the character of the songs for the non-Turkish speakers like me.

The grand finale of the Nardis celebration was given to bass player Ozan Musluoğlu’s quartet, who paid musical tribute to the composer, pianist and sax player Tuna Ötenel (born in 1947) – jazz mentor to many of today’s greatest Turkish jazz musicians. Indeed, as Ozan explained, Ötenel had taught each member of the group, who have been playing together since their college days (Uraz Kıvaner on keyboard, Batu Şallıel on saxophone and Ferit Odman on drums). Some years ago the quartet had the chance to play their reworkings of the maestro’s tunes to Ötenel himself (many of which come from his seminal recording Jazz Semai, originally released in 1978), who was profoundly moved by their efforts. From Saturday evening’s performance, it is clear why: each member of the group channelled their astonishing virtuosic capabilities to prove just how colourful these compositions are. Şallıel on sax delivered intricate and seriously complex lines in Rüyadaki Sesler; Ali’yi gördüm Ali’yi (a version of a traditional Turkish melody from the 16th century) was characterized by playful tempi changes. Köy Yolu and Şenlik (which had a spirited samba beat), were boisterous, exuberant triumphs. Polonya was a suave number (from Ötenel’s 2005 How Much Do you Love Me?), with delicious harmonic progressions. All of the tunes bore subtle traces of Ötenel cultural heritage, blended with a more ‘universal’ jazz style in such a way that demonstrated their intrinsic musical malleability of the Turkish vernacular. This was a world-class performance, and a fitting way to round off Turquazz’s tribute to the fertile contemporary jazz scene in Turkey.

If Nardis were a permanent fixture in London, especially with the likes of Musluoğlu’s quartet as guests, it would be a resounding success.

LINK: TURQUAZZ website

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