The celestial charabanc

The Istanbul Jazz Festival in a nutshell...

By John Shakespeare Dyson | July 5, 2023

Summer is upon us, and the 30th İKSV Istanbul Jazz Festival, like some celestial charabanc, is about to rev up and whisk us off to some interesting musical destinations. I need to make it clear at the outset that I have not found much jazz on the programme for this year. There is oodles of rock, pop, folk and ethno stuff of various kinds, but in my ill-informed opinion (and here I must confess that I have no idea what many of the terms used to describe modern genres in popular music – such as ‘spiritual p-funk’, ‘trip hop’, ‘krautrock’ or ‘bedroom pop’ – actually mean), at this particular beano jazz is by no means the main course. Though I do indeed enjoy certain varieties of rock and pop, in the main my preference is for jazz rather than for other forms of non-classical music; nevertheless, I will do my best to provide an objective overview of what is on offer during an event that describes itself as a ‘jazz festival’, but that in reality (sorry, you guys and gals at the İKSV!) is nothing of the sort.

A few statistics: Istanbul Jazz Festival Director Harun İzer tells us that since the festival was launched in 1994, over 6,200 musicians have taken part in 930 concerts, bringing together around 900,000 spectators at more than 100 venues. Here is a link to the festival’s online booklet, which is in English as well as Turkish; here, you will find his article, a piece by the CEO of Garanti BBVA (the bank that acts as festival sponsor), a description of the career of Can Kozlu (who is to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award), details of the concerts and the addresses of all the venues.

The opening concert on Friday, July 7, is to take place in the ‘Austrian Culture Forum’ at the Austrian Consulate in Yeniköy, where – after the usual speechifying and prize-giving – an Austrian group by the name of ‘Takeshi’s Cashew’ will be taking the stage at 21:30 hours. Takeshi’s Cashew is described as a ‘psychedelic jam group’, so if any sweetmeats involving jam are on offer at this concert, just be sure you know what you are letting yourself in for.

This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award is to be presented to drummer and educator Can Kozlu, who received his training in Grenoble, at the Centre d’informations musicales in Paris and at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. It was he, along with pianist Ali Perret, who in 1997 founded the Jazz Performance Department at Bilgi University in Istanbul – a school (now sadly defunct) that produced many of Turkey’s finest jazz musicians. Can Kozlu has in the past worked with many of the famous names in Turkish jazz – people such as vocalist Nükhet Ruacan (1951-2007); guitarist, conductor and educator Neşet Ruacan (1948-); percussionist, composer and arranger Arto Tunçboyacıyan (1957-); composer, arranger and bass guitarist Onno Tunç (1948-1996); arranger, composer, pianist, musical director and educator Emin Fındıkoğlu (1940-); pianist, saxophonist, composer and educator Tuna Ötenel (1947-); trumpeter, band leader and educator Şenova Ülker (1959-); pianist and composer Aydın Esen (1962-); trumpeter Muvaffak (‘Maffy’) Falay (1930-2022); and clarinettist and composer Oğuz Büyükberber (1970-).

The following day – Saturday, July 8 at 17:00 hours – there is to be a concert in which the following musicians will be taking part: Takeshi’s Cashew; Turkish vocalist, song-writer, producer and arranger Mert Demir; Israeli vocalist and song-writer Riff Cohen with 84-year-old Turkish percussionist Okay Temiz; and Dutch vocalist Sharon Kovacs. The venue is to be Parkorman Nature Park. Travel note: Park Orman Tabiat Parkı, located at Büyükdere Caddesi No. 263, Maslak, is accessible from the Darüşşafaka stop on the M2 metro line between Yenikapı and Hacıosman.

Here are J’aime Istanbul and À Paris, two samples of the work of Riff Cohen, who is currently cooperating with Okay Temiz, a highly original musician, in a project entitled ‘The Ritual’.

Now, Okay Temiz, who plays an amazing variety of instruments, in Akbaba (‘The Vulture’).

Last but certainly not least, here is Sharon Kovacs (with Metropole Orkest) in Fool Like You, a song that features a musically adventurous opening and an impressive orchestral arrangement – I particularly like the writing for the brass section.

Here are the lyrics – this one is quite a heartstring-snapper.

Parkorman is also the venue for a concert on Sunday, July 9, in which the performers will be British band Mammal Hands, whose style is described in their Wikipedia entry as being a combination of ‘ambient, jazz, electronic music and world music’; Turkish vocalist and lyricist Ekin Beril, famed for her a cappella (that is, unaccompanied) songs; British pianist, composer and producer Alfa Mist (real name: Alfa Sekitoleko), who is said to mix ‘hip-hop and club styles with jazz improvisation’; and British electronic band Morcheeba (vocalist: Skye Edwards), whose style is an amalgam of ‘trip hop, rock, folk rock and downtempo’. ‘Downtempo’, for the uninitiated – a category that includes myself – is ‘electronic music that features an atmospheric sound and slower beats than would typically be found in dance music’. You have been informed. Starting time: 17:00.

In this recording, Mammal Hands are performing Boreal Forest.

I note that one of the musicians who have influenced Mammal Hands is Pharoah Sanders (1940-2022), a saxophonist who has long been one of my personal favourites. He passed away last year – Allah rahmet eylesin. I can’t resist presenting a video of him performing in London in 2011.

This year there will be three Parklarda Caz – ‘Jazz in the Parks’ – events. The first, in Beylikdüzü Yaşam Vadisi on Sunday, July 9, at 17:30, features Eggmann Quartet (a Turkish outfit), Esra Gürçay (a Turkish vocalist) with Russian pianist Peter Shalamov, the Orchestra of the Boğaziçi University Music Club, and Takeshi’s Cashew. Potential attendees should note that Beylikdüzü is a long way out of town, the most convenient way of getting there being by metrobus. The second of the two events, meanwhile, will be held at 18:30 on Monday, July 10 at Küçükçekmece Göl Kenarı Amfi Tiyatro (‘Lakeside Amphitheatre’), Küçükçekmece being an area of Istanbul that lies west of the centre (on the way to Beylikdüzü), and is likewise accessible by metrobus. Performers will be Esra Gürçay and Peter Shalamov, a Turkish group by the name of ‘Projektiles’, and Takeshi’s Cashew.

Here is a link to an article (in Turkish) describing the various young Turkish jazz musicians who will be performing during the course of the Parklarda Caz concerts; two of the ensembles described (in addition to Projektiles, Esra Gürçay / Peter Shalamov, Eggmann Quartet and the Orchestra of the Boğaziçi University Music Club) are Zonda 4 and Keskin Band, both of whom will be appearing at the third Parklarda Caz event in Şişli on Sunday 16th July.

On Wednesday, July 12, at 19:45, Parkorman will be the venue for yet another concert, this time featuring Adamlar, a new-generation Turkish rock group, and an alternative folk band from Denver, Colorado by the name of ‘The Lumineers’. The following recording is of this latter outfit in their 2012 song Ho Hey. Not my cup of tea, I have to say, but it may be yours. (Do I detect a certain amount of influence from Tom Petty in this song, I wonder?)

The next day, Thursday, July 13, an event entitled +1’li Gece Gezmesi (‘+1 Night Walkabout’) is to be held in four different places in Kadıköy and nearby Moda. Starting times for the four concerts will be staggered so that those who wish to do so may flit from venue to venue – providing, of course, that they know where to find each one (for details, please see the end of this paragraph). The proceedings are to begin at 20:00 hours at Dorock XL (a club / pub / restaurant), at 20:30 at Moda Sahnesi (a performance space and theatre housed in a converted cinema), at 20:45 at Kadıköy Sineması (a cinema and cultural centre), and at 22:00 at The Wall (a bar and performance space). Most of the music will be provided by Turkish groups, but there will also be a visiting outfit from Israel by the name of ‘Sababa 5’. The addresses of the various venues will be found in the online booklet to which a link was given above. Also, the page on the İKSV website that describes the ‘+1’li Gece Gezmesi’ event gives a link to the part of GoogleMaps that shows Kadıköy and Moda; on this map, the four venues have been highlighted by means of dark red teardrop-shaped symbols. Here is a link to the relevant page (scroll down to ‘Mekân rotasını Google Maps üzerinden incelemek için tıklayın’).

Now for some more music: Elifelet 23 is by Sababa 5, the Israeli group who will be playing at The Wall.

On Friday, July 14, at 20:00 hours, Korean singer and song-writer Youn Sun Nah (real name: Na Yoon-sun) and her quartet will be appearing on the Konak Teras at Robert College, the school on the hillside above Arnavutköy that was founded by two Americans – Dr Cyrus Hamlin and Christopher Rhinelander Robert – in 1863. Youn Sun Nah learned her art in France, where she studied at the CIM (Centre d’informations musicales) School of Jazz, the École Nationale de Musique in Beauvais and the Nadia and Lili Boulanger Municipal Conservatory, later teaching students at the CIM Jazz School. Also on the programme is Turkish vocalist and song-writer Deniz Taşar, who went to school at ... Robert College. Note that on this occasion, access to the venue is via the Etiler Gate, which is situated along Ahmet Adnan Saygun Caddesi in Ulus.

In this recording, we hear Youn Sun Nah in her recent song Waking World.

Now, here is Deniz Taşar in The Unfold.

Another of the traditional events of the İKSV Jazz Festival is the Caz Vapuru boat trip. This year, the vapur (steamer) is to set off from the Kabataş landing stage – en route for Anadolu Kavağı, at the upper end of the Bosphorus, where a break for lunch will be given – on Sunday 16th July at 11:00 hours. Providing the musical entertainment will be Brassist (a Turkish brass ensemble who will be starting their set at 10:35), DJ Alper Bahçekapılı, Flapper Swing (a Turkish, and partially Czech, quintet that recreates the atmosphere of the roaring twenties) and Norwegian Dixieland band Swing’it.

In the following video, Flapper Swing are playing (and, in the case of vocalist Nevin Hetmanek, dancing and singing while dressed in 1920s gear) in Bursa.

Just to even things out between the two ‘Swing’ outfits, here are Swing’it in a performance in London. At 55:00, three ‘Gatsby girls’ make their appearance. Absolutely spiffing!

The third and last in the ‘Parklarda Caz’ series of concerts is to take place in Şişli Habitat Parkı on Sunday 16th July at 17:15 hours. Three Turkish ensembles – Rüzgar Yıldırım Band, Zonda 4 and Keskin Band – will be followed by Swing’it (see above). Then, on Monday July 17 at 21:00 hours, The Marmara Esma Sultan Yalısı in Ortaköy will be hosting Afro-pop vocalist, song-writer and guitarist Fatoumata Diawara, who sings in Bambara, the official language of Mali. In the following video, she is performing Bissa, from her highly successful 2011 début album Fatou.

We are now nearly at the end of our journey in the celestial charabanc. Honesty demands, by the way, that I confess to having taken this image from E.M. Forster’s short story ‘The Celestial Omnibus’. (One wonders whether J.K. Rowling’s ‘Knight Bus’ comes from the same source.) For those interested in reading this entertaining story, here is a link.

On the menu for the next-to-last concert – which is to be held at Sultan Park Swissotel The Bosphorus on Tuesday 18th July at 19:30 – are Turkish vocalist Elif Sanchez (a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, she sings in Spanish as well as Turkish) and Lizz Wright, a native of Georgia whose roots are in gospel music. As you will see from the following performance of Seems I’m Never Tired Lovin’ You, Ms Wright’s generously reverberating vocal style has a certain intensity.

And so we come to the end of our journey – but what an ending it is! At the Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall on Wednesday 19th July at 20:00 hours, some of Turkey’s finest jazz musicians will be coming together for a marchpast of outstanding talent. The first group to take the stage will be the İpek Göztepe Quintet, who will be followed by the Selen Gülün Blue Band. Both these outfits are of a very high standard, and contain some fine instrumentalists.

Here, for instance, is İpek Göztepe in Get Out Of Town.

Now, Berklee-trained vocalist, song-writer and pianist Selen Gülün with her group in an instrumental number called Diloy Suite.

The last set will feature trumpeter İmer Demirer, pianist Ali Perret, bass guitarist Apostolos Sideris and drummer Can Kozlu, the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. What a line-up! I last heard İmer Demirer in November 2019, when he was sharing the stage with Sibel Köse at a club in a shopping mall that I described (in my piece on the concert) as a ‘gleaming horror’. I cannot wait to hear him again, this time in a more congenial environment: his performances are always highly rewarding. Pianist Ali Perret, meanwhile, goes back a long way in Turkish jazz – a field in which he has been a key influence thanks to his time at Bilgi University, where he trained a large number of Turkish pianists; one of these was Çağrı Sertel, one of my favourite composers and practitioners of modern jazz. Mr Perret himself is yet another Berklee graduate who has played extensively in the United States, and – as I found when I last had the privilege of hearing him at the Nardis Club – it shows.

In the following video, İmer Demirer is playing with the TRT Light Music and Jazz Orchestra at the 2018 İKSV Istanbul Jazz Festival. His technique is, in a word, remarkable.

Now, Ali Perret, İmer Demirer, Can Kozlu and double-bassist Matt Hall jamming in semi-darkness at the Mitanni Club in Beyoğlu. The piano chords are worth close examination – I’d like to see them written out.

Finally, Ali Perret’s weird and wonderful Arubani, described as ‘free Anatolian music’.

Well, well, well ... all good things come to an end. The İKSV Istanbul Jazz Festival does not, unfortunately, go on the whole year round. But just for a few short weeks, the charabancs of beatitude will be triple-parking outside our doors. Let’s make the most of it while we can!

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