Jazz performances wrap up İstanbul's major summer festivals

July 25, 2014, Friday/ 17:16:36/ ALEXANDRA IVANOFF / ISTANBUL
For the last concert of İstanbul's major summer music festivals on July 19, I went to check out Norwegian jazz saxophonist Håkon Kornstad at the Zorlu Center's Performing Arts Centers Sky Lounge. What started out as a mellow down-tempo evening became an unexpectedly unique experience.

Kornstad's was the final concert of “Jazz in Ramadan,” organized by Hakan Erdoğan Productions' annual “Jazz in Ramadan” concert series. Appropriately, Mr. Kornstad's thematic thread touched upon his own religious background through a selection of Scandinavian hymn tunes and psalms from the Christian tradition. He riffed in a soulful way with various melodies, some of which he learned at his grandmother's knee or the memory of her singing to him at bedtime when he was a child. His spacious approach with lots of breath between phrases lulled us with a kind of playful seriousness.

Then without warning, he launched into an aria from a late-Baroque opera: “O mio dolce ardor,” from C.W. Gluck's “Orfeo and Euridice.” He jokingly called this odd combination “Baroque free-jazz.” But the effect was so startling that people put down their cellphones, stopped chatting and listened. In this particular aria, he chose a key that was suitable for a baritone, and although the sound was resonant, it turned out it was just a warm-up for what followed.

With his colleagues, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Jon Christensen, Kornstad again lulled us into a sweet hazy Scandinavian summer mood with his original treatments of another hymn tune and Keith Jarrett's “Death and the Flower.” Kornstad launched into “Dear Old Stockholm,” a beautiful Swedish folk song that saxophonists Stan Getz and John Coltrane had discovered when they went to Sweden in the 1960s. Kornstad, after explaining that the great Swedish tenor Jussi Björling had made it famous, sang it, exposing a truly glorious tenor voice not unlike that of Björling himself.

This combo was so unexpected and so compelling, not only as completely different genres used side by side, but the sound of a voice like his was uncontestably arresting. I had to know more. I talked with Kornstad after his show and he told me: “In 2009, I was in New York, and a friend gave me a ticket to the Metropolitan Opera. Now, opera wasn't really anything that had attracted me before, but I went anyway. It was ‘Cavalleria Rusticana.' I was totally stunned, especially by the tenors. I was so in love with what I saw and heard that I brought three more tickets to the opera that week. But also, I had to know how they sang like that! I met a woman who sang opera and she introduced me to her teacher, and ever since then, I've been studying opera singing.”

In truth, one of the reasons the combination of saxophone jazz and classical style vocalism is so unusual together is this case, is that his jazz playing is extremely free, showing a veritable lifetime of devotion to the genre. His singing reveals an amazing voice that, when fully developed, could be a serious contender in the Germanic opera repertoire. However, weaving it into a jazz set, he could benefit from a dash or two of that carefree jazz freedom to take the starch out of a classical piece. All in good time. But Kornstad is one to watch -- in whichever direction he goes.

Yıldız to the rescue


The İstanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) concluded its 21st annual Jazz Festival on July 16 with pianist Salman Gambarov, guitarist Önder Focan, trumpeter Şenova Ülker, oudist Fatih Ahıskalı, singer Yıldız İbrahimova and drummer Ferit Odman.

The program was under the general purview of Gambarov, who led with his own compositions, adding each performer, one by one. The problem with Gambarov was his formulaic approach to just about every tune, and employing the same treatment for each ending -- a fade-out using a simple repetition. The entrance of guitarist Focan temporarily shot some energy into things, but once Gambarov got into his first solo, which sat solely in the center of the keyboard -- I don't think I saw his left hand use the bass notes the entire evening -- the pulse monitor dropped to flatline status.

Even when oudist Ahıskalı added his deliciously eastern flavors to the ensemble, it failed to resuscitate the patient. The last one to hop onstage was singer İbrahimova. Unfortunately, we had to wait over 90 minutes before hearing what she mercifully did, which I now call “tempo de triage”: emergency rescue of a deathbed gig.

She was like a shot of vitamin B12, with her fearless four-octave be-bopping all over the musical horizon. She was a jaw-dropping combination of trombone and violin with her tenor tones and supersonic upper range. Her high-speed delivery of lyrics, comic musical exchanges with trumpeter Ülker and impromptu dancing gave us what we had come for: jazz prowess that had gallons of originality and star power to burn. Yıldız, which is the Turkish word for “star,” is appropriately named.

The final event in Salon İKSV's six concerts, a segment of the İKSV jazz festival, featured the Berlin-based trio, Rusconi (keyboardist Stefan Rusconi, bassist Fabian Gisler and drummer Claudio Strüby), with Turkey's electronic composer Erdem Helvacıoğlu, on July 14. The formula for these particular Salon concerts was mixing Turkish artists with European jazz artists for their “European Jazz Club” series.

Rusconi's brand of musical magic is a mash-up of ambient, pop, jazz and experimental modalities like placing objects in the piano and haunting three-part chordal wordless vocals. They generally played originals but included their version of Sonic Youth's “It's of Sunshine.”

While I found the trio's work compelling, the addition of Helvacıoğlu made things more expansive, especially their “Alice in the Sky,” to which the electronic element gave a seemingly limitless dimension. The evening was an affective landscape of both probing and beautiful pieces that made the most out of minimal elements, and an example of what the now extremely wide-ranged genre of jazz is all about. 
Keywords: jazz , summer , festival
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