A meeting of talents: Ozan Musluoğlu Quintet’s recipe for joy

By John Shakespeare Dyson | October 19, 2023

On October 13 I attended a jazz concert by the Ozan Musluoğlu Quintet, a mixed group of Turkish and American musicians, at the Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall. It was, of course, Friday the 13th, so I took great care to avoid accidents, chivvying my companion so as not to be late – but at the same time making no attempt to avoid the black cats in the nearby park. Nothing untoward actually happened, however, in spite of the fact that the following day there was an eclipse of the sun (in stressful aspect to the planet Pluto) that might have cast its shadow over the evening’s events. In fact, the concert was a highly enjoyable one that showed no sign of having been compromised by squabbles among the heavenly bodies.

Double-bass player Ozan Musluoğlu, the group’s founder, attended the Music Department of Bilgi University. He began studying his chosen instrument (with Volkan Hürsever, James Lewis and Kürşat And) in 2001, and from 2003 to 2008 toured Turkey and other countries with Athena, a Turkish ska and punk rock group. The Ozan Musluoğlu Quartet was formed in 2009 with Ülkem Özsezen on piano, Engin Recepoğulları on saxophone and Ferit Odman on drums, these last two being members of the outfit whose performance I attended on Friday. Ozan’s first album, Coincidence, appeared in 2009, and this was followed by 40th Day (2011), My Best Friends are Pianists (2012) and My Best Friends are Vocalists (2015). His latest album, Nine, released earlier this year, features pianist Danny Grissett, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt (of whom more anon) and – once again – drummer Ferit Odman.

Of the other Turkish musicians, Engin Recepoğulları is a saxophonist I have listened to several times, most recently as one of a group accompanying Sibel Köse at the Nardis Jazz Club. A native of İzmir, he received tuition from Ricky Ford in Istanbul, then gained a scholarship to hone his musical skills in Italy. Engin, renowned for his modesty, has played with an impressive number of Turkey’s finest jazz musicians, and recently appeared at the Akbank Jazz Festival as a member of the Wayne Shorter Tribute Band.

Drummer Ferit Odman, meanwhile, was trained in Sweden and at the Jazz Department of Bilgi University. He has also spent time in the United States – in 2004 as a participant in workshops at the New York School of Improvisation, and from 2006 to 2008 as a Fulbright Scholar at William Paterson University in New Jersey. During this time he naturally played in a good many New York clubs and took part in a number of festivals. He is currently a member of the Hakan Başar Jazz Trio and the TRT Big Band.

Before I introduce Jeremy Pelt and Anthony Wonsey, the American members of the outfit, I would like to present the title track from Ozan Musluoğlu’s 2009 album Coincidence. The other musicians are Ülkem Özsezen, Engin Recepoğulları and Ferit Odman.

Jeremy Pelt, the trumpeter of the group I heard at the Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall, was trained at the Berklee College of Music, subsequently performing with the Mingus Big Band, Ravi Coltrane, Greg Osby, Cassandra Wilson, the Roy Hargrove Big Band, the Village Vanguard Orchestra and the Duke Ellington Big Band. He is currently a member of the Lewis Nash Septet and the Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band, featuring Louis Hayes. Mr Pelt has recorded ten albums to date, and was voted ‘Rising Star on the Trumpet’ five years in a row by Downbeat Magazine and the Jazz Journalists Association. Here is the title track from his latest album, Soundtrack.

The piano was played by Anthony Wonsey, who received his initial training from his mother, a classical pianist. He then attended the Berklee College of Music, playing locally with Roy Hargrove and Antonio Hart while still a student there. After graduation he toured with Kenny Garrett and Nneena Freelon, and was subsequently invited by drummer Elvin Jones to join his group, the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine. More recently he has recorded with Wallace Roney, Nicholas Payton, Vincent Herring and Chico Freeman. The following video is of It’s Just a Fire Hydrant, a live performance by the Anthony Wonsey Trio at Chris’ Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia.

Being a dilettante rather than an aficionado where jazz is concerned, I did not catch the names of some of the numbers the Ozan Musluoğlu Quintet played. This did not, however, prevent me from appreciating a ripping saxophone solo and some prestissimo running passages from the trumpet in the second piece. (Both Jeremy Pelt and Engin Recepoğulları go in for fast-action fingerwork.)

Before the third item Messrs Pelt and Wonsey each gave a short speech in which they dedicated the forthcoming piece to Dwayne Burno, a bassist who passed away in 2013 at the early age of 43. Mr Wonsey recounted how while he was at Berklee he had told Mr Burno that he did not know what ‘rhythm change’ meant (frankly, given Mr Wonsey’s talents, I found this a little difficult to believe), and Burno had collected together a large number of recordings to show him how it was done. The music then began with a subdued In Memoriam solo from the muted trumpet. (The glissandi did not go particularly well here, which I surmised to be because Mr Pert was overcome with emotion while remembering his deceased colleague.)

It was in the fourth number, Gravy Waltz, that the pianist took off in earnest, showing his mettle. By this time everyone on the stage had well and truly warmed up, and I settled down in my seat to bask in the music. Later on, in Visitation, we heard a vibrantly sostenuto bass solo from Ozan Musluoğlu, then an extended drum solo in which Ferit Odman delighted the audience with his hyperenergised cross-rhythms. This was followed by another exhibition of rapid-fire tonguing from trumpeter Jeremy Pelt.

The piece played as an encore was Sage, and here it was once again Anthony Wonsey who shone, giving us what was perhaps his best solo of the entire concert. The other musicians certainly did not lag behind him in the speed department, of course, but in spite of this they all succeeded in co-ordinating their instrumental whizzes, whorls and convoluted cartwheels without a single hitch. During the lineup at the end it was noticeable that the slim but agile Mr Wonsey was able to bow much lower than his fellow performers.

The group’s style was undoubtedly mainstream, but that is in no way a criticism. Pure enjoyment has its place just as much as innovation does. Anyway, here is First Song, another track from Ozan Musluoğlu’s latest album Nine. It features some evenly-played long phrases from Jeremy Pelt, who obviously has great breath control.

This combination of musicians was very much worth hearing, and I certainly hope they come together again in Istanbul at some time in the future, whatever conjunctions may be taking place in the heavens at the time.

Posted in Music & Performing Arts, - Jazz, - Musical Shares
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