...And all that jazz

Raci Pişmişoğlu and group at the Nardis Jazz Club

By John Shakespeare Dyson | July 7, 2024

On Monday May 27 I made my way along Büyük Hendek Caddesi towards the Nardis Jazz Club, picking my through the throng of selfie-taking tourists taking advantage of the unique backdrop of a round, stone-built watchtower, built by the Genoese in the mid-14th century, that has become rather famous. On my way I stopped off at the Şirin Fırın patisserie, where I met up with my companion for the evening. After taking modest sustenance at this highly recommended establishment, which even after repeated endorsements still does not reward me with free apple pie (cries of ‘Shame!’), we darkened the doors of the club. Here we were rewarded with a conveniently-positioned table from which the proceedings on the stage were clearly visible, but at which we were not in danger of nutting a fellow-customer with the reverse side of our skulls if we incautiously sat back in our chairs.

The occasion was a gig by bass guitarist Naci Pişmişoğlu and his group, which consisted of Serhan Erkol on soprano and tenor saxophones, Duru Tuna on alto saxophone, Bora Çeliker on electric guitar and Berke Özgümüş on drums. Before the concert began, one of the group (who shall perforce remain anonymous) told me that it was a long time since this combination of musicians had played together. In performance, however, they showed no sign of collective amnesia. Indeed, the first number exhibited exemplary coordination between the two saxophonists.

After it, Raci Pişmişoğlu gave a speech in which he informed us that the pianist Ali Perret was unable to be present that evening owing to indisposition. I will take this opportunity to wish him a speedy recovery. In 1995 Raci Pişmişoğlu and Ali Perret became the founding fathers of the Jazz Department at Bilgi University, and both men must therefore be considered figures of incalculable importance in the development of Turkish jazz. Raci’s lessons in Ensemble Playing at Bilgi filled a gap in his pupils’ knowledge that could not have been filled by any other form of instruction. Would that all institutions claiming to teach jazz followed his example! During this time he also taught bass guitar and listening & analysis.

The group then launched into a piece that began with plaintive note clusters, but soon broke into an intensely rhythmic passage. One performer who stood out here was guitarist Bora Çeliker, who produced the first of a string of tasteful solos. As things developed, agitated (might I use the word ‘antsy’ here?) pronouncements from the saxophonists were underpinned by urgent, driving riffs from the bass. Then, to round off a piece marked by a remarkable degree of untamed turbulence, drummer Berke Özgümüş fired off some cracking flourishes that demonstrated his mastery of his craft. Indeed, the drumming was one of the outstanding features of the evening’s music.

Subsequent numbers exhibited the excellent rapport that has developed between saxophonists Serhan Erkol and Duru Tuna. There was a piece in which guitarist Bora Çeliker shone once again (at one point he started playing Bach, which in retrospect I think was rather daring, but at the time it seemed perfectly natural), another which began in a jerky, kicking rhythm that gradually subsided, thus allowing the bass guitar to give us a long and satisfying solo (the drummer proved himself an excellent accompanist here), and a third in which the seraphic smile on the face of tenor saxophonist, Serhan Erkol, belied the feral ferocity of what he was laying down as he moaned and screeched a ballistic ballad interpersed with harsh, spitting expletives – just like the figure in Francis Bacon’s famous portrait would have done if the painting had had a soundtrack.

Raci Pişmişoğlu, a native of İzmir, is one of the grand old men of Turkish jazz. In 1990 he and Ömür Gidel founded the Yamaha Music Schools, and three years later they formed a group called the İzmir Jazz Five. During their nine-year stint as teachers at Bilgi University (from 1995 to 2004), Raci and Ali Perret founded a group by the name of Acid Trippin, playing modern fusion and jazz of many hues – funk, experimental, modal and polytonall. Their 1998 album Midnite Rebels was a product of these times. In 2002 a concert in which the duo were accompanied by Sarp Maden, İmer Demirer, Erdinç Şenol, Ercüment Ateş and others was recorded (by sound engineer Kemal Çankaya) at the Babylon Club, and this resulted in an album entitled Wrong Way.

From 1994 to 2006 Raci played bass guitar for Yeni Türkü, a group (very popular in Turkey) whose songs made use of the genres – and sometimes the instruments – of Turkish folk music. This took him to music festivals in the United States and several European countries. In addition he participated in a number of Ali Perret’s projects, together with musicians such as Donovan Mixon and Ricky Ford, who had both been fellow-teachers at Bilgi University’s Jazz Department. Ricky Ford, a well-known figure in the world of jazz, was once the tenor saxophonist of Charles Mingus’s group, and is also a composer. Raci played both in his Istanbul Jazz Collective Big Band’and in his trio.

Turkish musicians with whom Raci has performed in the past include Can Kozlu, İmer Demirer, Sibel Köse, Erkan Oğur, Ercan Irmak, Mustafa Suder, İlyas Mirzayev, Aycan Tezel, Emir Özoğlu, Turkish classical music singer Selim Selçuk and the late ace trombonist Elvan Aracı. He has also been involved in projects with jazz and pop singer Ayten Alpman and with major pop star Zerrin Özer, for whom he produced an album entitled Zerrin Özel. According to the Turkishjazz website he is currently exploring the possibilities of electronic and ethnic jazz.

Raci is Musical Director of MUS 461, a group consisting of saxophonists Siney Yılmaz, Serhan Erkol and Duru Tuna, drummer Berke Özgümüş, guitarist Bora Çeliker, pianist Can Çankaya and (of course) Raci himself. (Whether or not the group’s title is a reference to the film Fahrenheit 451 is anyone’s guess. Is Fahrenheit 461 the temperature at which guitar strings explode, one wonders?) They play pieces of his own composition as well as bebop and funk jazz numbers by Charles Mingus, Michael Brecker and Billy Cobham.

Now for some music. Here is the full Wrong Way album, featuring Ali Perret on piano and Raci Pişmişoğlu on bass guitar, plus drummer Erdinç Şenol, percussionist Murat Özbey, vocalist Brenna Maccrimmon, guitarists Erkan Oğur, Ercüment Ateş and Sarp Maden, soprano saxophonists Yahya Dai and Ergun Sesligil and trumpeter Güray Aktalay.

Raci can be seen in the flesh in this short clip, in which he is accompanying a saxophonist at the Jazz Department of the İzmir Musical Academy.

Finally, a session at the Nardis Club – one of a large number featured in YouTube videos – in which Raci is almost invisible behind the saxophonists. I can’t see who the pianist is, but he doesn’t look like Ali Perret and definitely isn’t wearing a baseball cap. Anyway, he hits some nice chords, and (maybe in response to this) the guitarist takes off into the wide blue yonder at 1:50. The recording quality may not be all that great, but at least you get the vibe.

Yours truly had to take off into the wide blue yonder not long after the group had begun their second set (my companion had early morning commitments the next day), but not without having had a most agreeable evening’s jazz that included a conversation with Mr Pişmişoğlu during the break, preceded and followed by a selection of pastries: bass buns, saxophone strudels and a guitar Gugelhupf (look it up).

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