t, composer, and arranger Başak Yavuz, a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music where she studied with Peter Eldridge, Theo Bleckmann, David Liebman and others, has just issued her debut CD titled "Things..." (Z Music/Kalan) and it's quite an effort. Besides the vocals, Ms. Yavuz composed 9 of the 12 pieces, arranged each track and played kalimba and percussion on 3. Joining her are 18 musicians and vocalists, ranging from the afore-mentioned Eldridge and Liebman to bassist Alex Spradling (8 tracks), Richie Barshay (drums on 4 tracks), Jay Rattman (reeds on 3 tracks), James Shipp (vibraphone, pander, percussion on 3 tracks, pianists Jeremy Siskind and Wim Leysen (3 tracks each), Matt Holman (trumpet, flugelhorn), Curtis Brink (trombone), vocalists Brianna Thomas, Natalie Galey and Nicky Schrire, Yacouba Sissoko (kora), Evan Gregor (acoustic bass), drummers Arthur Vint and Guilhem Flouzat, Sebastien Boehlen (electric guitar) plus conductor Daniel Jamieson.
Ms. Yavuz sings the first 4 tracks in her native language, using a different background for each song. "Bu Arular (Lately)" features strong work from bassist Spradling and Holman's atmospheric trumpet. Holman switches to flugelhorn for "Masela (What If)", joining Rattman and Brink to create a small orchestra over the active rhythm section (fine piano solo from Siskind). It's kalimba, kora and percussion on "Sen ve Ben (You and Me)", a sweet ballad that sounds like a lullaby. Liebman's lovely soprano saxophone over Leysen's spare piano chords leads the vocalist into "Hazarfen", a mysterious ballad that moves into "freer" territory for the solos (soprano sax, distorted guitar, Flouzat's drums and piano into a wordless vocal inspired by the muezzin's song)
Hazy guitar chords beneath the howling Indian flute introduces "A Timeless Place", Norma Winsone's lyrics added to Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks." Flouzat kicks the rhythm section to life, Liebman moves to soprano sax and Ms. Yavuz sings the impressionistic lyrics in English. The intensity waxes and wanes but always keeps one's attention. Her playful take on Rodgers/Hart's "He Was Too Good To Me" features strong support from Eldridge (on piano), whispery bass clarinet solo from Rattman (he also partakes in a sprightly duet with Ms. Yavuz), plus excellent percussion from Barshay. The other "standard" is Irving Berlin's "How Deep Is The Ocean", here given a smart rearrangement that features Rattman (alto sax), Shipp's vibraphone and more inventive rhythm section work (Eldridge, Barshay and Spradling).
"Where Is Home" is a duet for Ms. Yavuz (voice, tambourine) and Eldridge (voice), a short, sweet tune with a melody and harmonies that sound as if the song came from Appalachia. "Elevator Operator" (dedicated to Ornette Coleman) is pure Memphis blue with gospel piano chords, forceful vocals from Ms. Thomas and Ms. Galey, and a forthright trombone solo from Brink. It's funny, funky and right to the point.
The longest track (11 minutes), "My Moment", commences with a drone and South Indian-inspired vocal before dropping into a "groove" for the verse. The band drops out and the voices of Ms. Yavuz, Ms. Schire and Ms. Galey begin a round. After the voices drop out, Shipp steps out for a hardy vibes solo with support from Eldridge (piano), Spradling and Barshay. The piece ends in a "Twilight Zone"-type drone for voices and percussion. Overall, it's an odd experiment that does not quite gell but is nowhere near a failure.
Başak Yavuz has returned to Istanbul to teach on the University level but has given the world a unique vocal and musical experience that combines her "roots" and life at school in New York City. Her debut CD is a sprawling tapestry, 71 minutes of music that goes in myriad directions, all driven by the vocalist's curiosity, love of language and experimentation, Western Asian and Middle-Eastern rhythms, and desire to connect. Glorious at times, magical at other times and never dull, "Things..." is quite a trip! For more information, go to basakyavuz.com.
The recording, which features Daniel Foose (bass), Carmen Staaf (piano) and Matt Wilson (drums, cymbals), concentrates on composition by living composers with 6 pieces by Hadro and one each from co-producer Julian Shore, Ryan Amselmi, James Davis and Maria Schneider. This is music that sings, it rocks, flows, has intelligent arrangements and lively solos. Wilson lights a fire under the band on Hadro's "Bright Eyes", a piece reminiscent of the Charles Lloyd Quartet, circa 1966. Ms. Staafs powerful solo energizes the rhythm section making the music even more intense. "Give" (Shore's contribution) opens with subtle overdubbing (2 saxophones) and moves into a soft, sweet, ballad with a bit of a Brazilian feel in the rhythms. The interaction of Hadro's lyrical baritone with Ms. Staaf's chordal counterpoint catches the ear as does the smart work of the bass and drums. "Cotton" (composed by trumpeter James Davis) is a lovely melody, prayerful, simple yet arresting, allowing the leader to explore the higher registers of the baritone. Wilson pushes the tempo during the solos, prodding both Hadro and Ms. Staff to excellent work. There is a "push-pull" feel to the rhythms on the "intro" section of "Forever, All Ways" that slows to allow the flute and baritone sax to create an abstract melody (no true phrases but fragments of a tune).
The opening track, "Allegrecia" is a fine multi-sectioned work that starts in a forceful mode for the baritone to build the melody and then into an impassioned solo. It feels like the song is over until Ms. Staaf brings the piece back to life for her solo over the strong drum work and lively bass counterpoint. The title of the piece makes an oblique reference to a work by Maria Schneider but it's her lovely "Sea of Tranquility" that the quartet plays later in the program. The focus is on the baritone sax all the way through the piece; Hadro states the melody, builds his strong solo atop the intuitive interactions of his musical partners, and brings the song to a soft landing.
|Photo by James Korn|
Here's a taste of this fine recording: