Hence, harmonizing a Turkish classical music piece and playing it with well-tempered Western instruments has always been a painful issue for musicians in Turkey.
While the decades-old debate continues as to whether Turkish music could or should be polyphonized, Önder Focan definitely adds a new dimension to this debate with his arrangements and approach in his last album "Swing A La Turca." In this album, the Önder Focan Group plays certain well-known Turkish classical music pieces such as "Kaçsam Bırakıp" as well as new and jazzy versions of some popular pieces such as Fahir Atakoğlu's "Lal" and Zülfü Livaneli's "Karlı Kayın Ormanı." However, what is new in this album is that, all the songs are performed as "jazz standards" such that their main melody is taken as basic and all the arrangements are done according to that main melody just like that of a jazz standard. We observe all the dominant features of straight-ahead jazz throughout the performance; basically, it is a swinging jazz band that plays Turkish standards.
Another interesting feature in "Swing A La Turca" is the use of the ney (the reed flute). In the album A. Şenol Filiz plays the ney, accompanying the orchestra and joining in with improvisations as a soloist. In this album, Şenova Ülker plays the trumpet, Erdal Akyol plays the bass and jazz drummers Cem Aksel and Ferit Odman play the drums, together making up the Önder Focan Group. Nothing beats the synergy of a musical ensemble that travels together; the musical reflection of this is prevalent especially in "Canberra Zortlatması," an original composition by Focan, based on a memory the group had while performing at a multicultural festival in Canberra on their Australian tour.
Focan explains that the difficulty in arranging Turkish classical music could be lessened if the maqams (modes) that have their microtones in their central and strongest regions were avoided. He gives the example of a maqam known as Rast: Although this maqam sounds like a Western major key, it definitely is not, and since its microtonal region is very central in Rast, trying to harmonize Rast pieces to be played by a Western orchestra generally ends up with rather unpleasant results. Focan says both his personal taste for minor keys and his harmonic approach have led him to choose maqams such as Buselik, Nihavent or Acem Aşiran, none of which have their microtonal regions at the center of their tonality.
The result, as we hear in "Swing A La Turca," is very pleasant to listen to. The version of "Lal" in this album especially has a very refined way of treating the beautiful melody of "Lal" since we are allowed to appreciate it without overhearing the main theme, but rather through journeys to the possible themes in its melodic horizon. Allowing different horizons, at the end of the day, is the dominant theme in "Swing A La Turca." The album was released under the Kalan Music label in 2007.