Tightrope jazz

İmer Demirer, Ali Perret, Meriç Demirkol and Raci Pişmişoğlu at BOVA

By John Shakespeare Dyson | March 4, 2024

On Sunday February 18 I visited Bova, a small jazz club located in Mis Sokak, Beyoğlu. My companion and I had booked early, and so were given the privilege of sitting very close to the stage. The musicians who entertained us were trumpeter İmer Demirer, pianist Ali Perret, saxophonist Meriç Demirkol and bass guitarist Raci Pişmişoğlu. A drummer had also been scheduled to appear, but for some reason he was unable to be present. Frankly, I thought this was no bad thing (no disrespect intended, of course) as if İmer and / or Meriç had stepped backwards, they might well have collided with the drumset, thus producing an explosive but unintended percussion effect: the stage was somewhat cramped, as indeed was the space set aside for the audience.

Being personally acquainted with all the musicians except Raci, I knew we were in for a treat. İmer Demirer is a trumpet-player of such outstanding creativity and originality that the remark made by singer Randy Esen (during an interview conducted by Tolga Bedir, as reported in my previous blog) while describing how she had chosen him to play on her latest album is entirely justified: “İmer ...” she said, “Man, I mean, what can I say ... he was the only choice.” The previous time I had heard him play was last summer, when he and his fellow musicians (including Sibel Köse) took part in a late-evening concert in Kalamış Park to commemorate singer Ayşe Gencer, his late wife, who passed away at the end of 2022. I could not have imagined a more fitting way to celebrate her life than this event, which I found both moving and uplifting.

Ali Perret, meanwhile, was responsible for training up a large number of the fine young Turkish jazz pianists we hear today while he was teaching in the Jazz Department of Bilgi University – a department that he helped found. An expert both at laying down mainstream jazz and at providing musically appropriate accompaniment to free improvisations, he has a versatile aesthetic that is all his own. In my blog on a concert he took part in, along with İmer Demirer, during last summer’s İKSV Jazz Festival, I said that Ali Perret gave ‘a demonstration of improvised playing of a quality I have rarely seen in Turkey: he proved himself to be quite capable of holding his own as a soloist without a script of any kind.’

Meriç Demirkol, who began his career in music as an oboist, singer and pianist and subsequently began playing jazz clarinet and saxophone, is a regular feature in recordings for the Istanbul Radio TRT Jazz Orchestra. Having received his initial training at Bilkent University in Ankara, he went on to found the oboe department at Eskişehir Anadolu University, and taught there until he moved to Istanbul. In view of the tastefulness of his playing, it did not surprise me in any way to learn that he has an extensive background in classical music that includes studies in harmony. Meriç Demirkol is an extremely modest (is this an oxymoron?) person who shuns the limelight. Thus, in accordance with the principle of ‘evening things out’ by making the high places low and the low places high (no play on words intended), I will now expose him to a – no doubt unwelcome – dose of fame by listing a video in which he is playing the saxophone with the Emin Fındıkoğlu Big Band.

Guitarist Raci Pişmişoğlu is the ultimate relaxed dude. (I never use the term ‘cool’ when describing a person in an approbatory manner, by the way, as I do not see what kind of compliment it is to do so using a word that means ‘distant and rather unfriendly’.) A native of İzmir, this grand old man of the guitar began playing jazz with various groups in the late 1980s. From 1995 to 2004 he taught in the Jazz Department of Bilgi University, where he contributed his knowledge and experience to an up-and-coming generation of musicians. This is, of course, a background he shares with Ali Perret, with whom he has played in various outfits over the years – including one entitled ‘Acid Trippin’. (An aside: I find the use of such a phrase in a musical context completely mystifying. Who in their right mind would name their music group after a short journey to the supermarket to buy vinegar, or lemons?) Though this was the first time I had heard him play, it did not take long for me to realise that for Raci Pişmişoğlu, accompanying polytonal free jazz is a mere bagatelle.

When the music got going at Bova on February 18, things soon developed into a dialogue between İmer and Meriç, the general effect being in some ways reminiscent of Miles Davis’ 1970 album Bitches Brew. By the second number, the duo had warmed up in earnest, and we heard some weird but intriguing effects from the saxophone; towards the end, the pianist surprised us by nonchalantly breaking into a mainstream blues rhythm. As the trumpet/saxophone dialogue progressed it was Meriç, rather than İmer, who let rip, and in doing so contributed a great deal towards the success of the evening in terms of musical satisfaction. It is precisely this lack of restraint that can give improvised music, at its best, a ‘straight-from-the-heart’ quality that is extremely difficult to replicate in a scripted performance. This is not to say, of course, that İmer, whose playing is invariably tasteful, was anything less than magnificent; on this occasion, however, the chromatic cookie crumbled in such a way that he appeared to be providing a foil for Meriç rather than taking centre stage himself.

Yet again in accordance with the principle of ‘evening things out’ – which in this case means acknowledging the contribution of the accompanying musicians – I must make it clear that a significant part of the ensemble’s success was due to the underpinning provided for the soloists by Ali Perret and Naci Pişmişoğlu. When I say that atonal music is a tightrope with gaps in it, I mean that it is all too easy for the accompaniment to steer the music towards a particular scale, thus predicating a dominant tonality, rather than allowing the other musicians to arrive at a communally-agreed aesthetic that is not based on any scale whatsoever. The fact that these gaps in the tightrope were never, for one moment, fallen into is a tribute to the musical nous and long experience of Messrs Perret and Pişmişoğlu.   

Unfortunately, my companion and I were prevented by time constraints from staying for the second half; consequently, the above account is valid only for the first half of the performance. To tell the truth, making the initial contact with the club to reserve a table had been rather problematic – until we discovered that although Bova hosts an event almost every evening, it advertises itself only via Instagram. The contact details I have given below do not, therefore, contain a website.
Bova Jazz Club
Şehit Muhtar Mahallesi, Mis Sk. No:17, 34435 Beyoğlu, Istanbul
Instagram: @bova_sahne
Tel: 0212 243 44 61

When we had left the premises and walked down Mis Sokak, we found a row of taxis conveniently waiting for us in Tarlabaşı Boulevard. And speaking of convenience, may I hereby address a request to the club to allow old fogeys like me who are not on Instagram to contact them via a more readily accessible method, and another request to put out their schedule of events for the coming month a little earlier than the first day of that month? Doing these things would make life a good deal simpler for those of us who, deprived of the privilege of conquering the known universe via social media, are confined to mumbling toothlessly into our bowls of gruel.

Current Events