Faces & Places (Far & Here)
By Fernando Gonzalez
For many, the term globalization has had — often with good reason — a sinister connotation. But in jazz, globalization has come largely to mean glocalization, a much healthier mix of global and local, at its best. What has come into view in recent years is the development around the world of a music that acknowledges the essential elements and practices in jazz, is mindful of its history, and celebrates its great masters – but that also freely incorporates some of the vocabulary, the syntax, and sometimes even the instruments of the local music. Technology has made it more easily available than ever before. As a result, jazz has become an increasingly many-sided conversation, with the growing recognition of non-American jazz artists making contributions to the music and, perhaps, helping shape its future.
Turkish pianist, composer, and arranger Fahir Atakoglu is one of these artists. Although he has been a resident of the United States for the past 20 years, Atakoglu has had an active and successful career in his native Turkey as a film, jingle and classical composer. His discography includes soundtracks, as well as music for a ballet and a historic theme park in Turkey.
In recent years, however, he has turned his attention to also developing a career in jazz. If, a 2005 trio recording with bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, also included a guest appearance on two tracks by saxophonist Donny McCaslin. His next major jazz project was Istanbul in Blue, a hard driving, fusion-tinged disc released in 2008 that featured Atakoglu’s trio augmented by guitarists Mike Stern and Wayne Krantz and saxophonist Bob Franceschini.
In Faces & Places, Atakoglu nods to the jazz-rock-funk fusion of the 70s and 80s , but with a twist, a Turkish twist. The results sound at once familiar and fresh. The album – which features a cast of first-call players including bassist John Patitucci, saxophonist Bob Mintzer, trumpeter Randy Brecker, guitarists Krantz, Romero Lubambo, and Rene Toledo, percussionist Rogerio Bocatto, drummer Hernandez and a string section – fleshes out Atakoglu’s vision, not only by using a larger group, but by making intriguing connections as he revisits his influences. Here, the high energy of, say, Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, or the Brecker Brothers, is re-contextualized and re-imagined with Middle Eastern sounding melodies and odd-metered grooves, as in the opening “Into You,” with its zigzagging lines and relentless, driving high energy.
A strong soloist, with an arranger’s ear for development and form, Atakoglu’s writing also sounds particularly deft at manipulating tension, energy and textural variations. Check “High Street” with its rhythmic layers bubbling under the melody and his use of the strings to pace the song.
Perhaps reflecting both personal experience as well as Turkey’s position as a cultural crossroad, a certain Middle Eastern rhythm in Atakoglu’s music is not far from, for example, Brazilian samba, flamenco or gritty New York City jazz funk. In “Faces” the initial odd time signature groove, stirring the music under wordless vocals and a piano solo, is later transformed, by a subtle change in musical accents, into a hard driving bossa nova. “Mediterranean,” includes both a Middle Eastern sounding melody from the string section and the saxophone, and palmas (hand clapping) during a flamenco-pop tinged solo from former Gloria Estefan mainstay, guitarist Rene Toledo. And Atakoglu is not afraid to mix and match, and in turn, evoke the sound of jazz in New York City in the ’80s — as in “NY-Retrospective,” which feels like a Brecker Brothers tribute.
The overall effect can be at times disorienting, like trying to figure out an unknown city by trying to find one’s way with a map at false scale. But the adventure is definitely worthy. Such is life in a globalized (jazz) world.