Thursday, August 7, 2014

Masters of Turkish Music

Since we're on a bit of a roll with music recorded in the 78 rpm era, coming off the great Art Tatum, here's an offering from 1990 on Rounder Records of Turkish music that was produced between 1906 and 1949, in tandem with the University of Maryland-Baltimore County Center for Turkish Music.

Gorgeous male and female singing abounds on this album, full of keening, elongated melodies characteristic of the music of so much of the Middle East, but also with wonderful instrumental work, coming from the court of the failing Ottoman Empire, which collapsed after World War I in 1918, folk music, and urban music often performed by gypsies and other sources.  Improvisation, moreover, plays an essential part of this fantastic music.

As observed in the brief, but informative, liners, record labels from Germany, England and a local label in Istanbul owned by Jews, produced recordings from as early 1903 and records from Turkey began to be available in the U.S. from about 1912 thanks to migrants from the Middle East and Near East.  An overview of several styles of music, one of which, taqsim, has been covered here through the great album called Taqasim featuring Ali Jihad Racy and Simon Shaheen.

The first half of the disc features classical vocal music, including the gazel of the Ottoman court tradition which emphasizes the often staggering improvisations of a highly-skilled vocalist, while the second half highlights instrumentals, including, at the end, several excellent taqsim.

If one listens to flamenco singing or that of Bulgarian choral music, the clear connection to this vocal music is obvious.  Moreover, the use of stringed instruments on this album also had ramifications throughout the Arab world and parts of Europe that were either controlled by Islamic regimes, as in Spain for seven centuries, or in the Balkans.

A special note of praise should go to the sound restoration work of Jack Towers in transferring these old recordings from discs supplied by two collectors and creating as clean and clear a sound as possible (and the pops, clicks and hisses were wisely left in).  Truly, great music still comes through regardless of the technology.

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