Concert Review: Mehmet Polat Trio at Drom

Mehmet Polat Trio

Drom

January 19th 2016

New York, NY

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By Ernest Barteldes

 

On the closing concert of their tour in support of Next Spring (Homerecords.be, 2015), the Mehmet Polat Trio (Polat: oud; Sinan Arat: ney; Bao Sissoko : kora) took to the stage of New York City’s Drom for a selection of original songs.  Polat briefly introduced the trio telling the audience what the music was about and immediately set out into their set, opening with a mellow-sounding number based around a simple chord sequence, with all the members freely improvising around the melody.

Without interruption, they went right into the second number, a syncopated tune mostly based around Sissoko’s instrument. The trio kept at this pace, going from seamlessly from song to song without pausing – the end of each tune prompted the next, but the differences were quite noticeable as the rhythm and melodic groove constantly changed.

The chemistry that Polat, Arat and Sissoko have is very evident – just a glance at each other is enough to communicate where the music might be going, and during improvised moments they just find themselves in great synchronicity, finishing off a solo where one of them left off. During a short break between songs, Polat talked about their instruments’ origins and their sonic particularities, and then went on to play two final tunes, beginning with a composition by Sissoko that had a strong West African feel with some traditional Turkish tones in between. The groove seemed to go around a single chord with lots of improvised moments. They closed the set with a tune that was based around the kora and that picked up speed every few bars, which kept audience members wondering when it was actually going to end – a simple melody that stayed in my head for at least a few hours.

The Mehmet Polat Trio rarely performs stateside, but they should be returning in the summer – it would be great to hear them again, since we don’t have many opportunities to hear a group to dares to take traditional music to the next level – one that so greatly integrates two cultures in such an amazing manner.

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Remembering David Bowie

By Ernest Barteldes

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I think I was 13 years old when I first heard David Bowie’s voice.  The year was 1981, and a local radio station I used to hang out around (those were the days) got an advance copy of his collaboration with Queen. I was one of the first in the room to hear what was to become John Deacon’s iconic bassline that kicked off “Under Pressure,” the most memorable tune from the band’s “Hot Space” album, which would go into history as one of the least appreciated of the band’s career – except for this tune.

A couple of years later, Bowie released what would have become his most commercial album – the disco-inflected “Let’s Dance,” whose title track is still in rotation in many classic rock and oldies stations. I recall not being very impressed by that one song, but hearing the other songs on the disc showed me that he had not really sold out – he was just experimenting, as ever, with new sounds and textures.

Around that time, he was very much in the spotlight not as a musician but as an actor in films like “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” “The Hunger” and others. Those films were really unmemorable, and I am glad that he turned back to music after that, even if he never really quit appearing in film and TV – even SpongeBob Squarepants.

Though I was not a huge fan of Bowie’s canon, I did have great admiration for his body of work – how many musicians have been able not only to reinvent themselves but to remain relevant over a period of five decades without relying on crowd pleasers during live performances? The only equivalent would be Bob Dylan, who still raises eyebrows whenever he makes an album – that no longer happens to folks like Paul McCartney or Sting – and I am a fan of both artists.

David Bowie was an inspiring artist who was not a bullshitter in any way or form. Fellow journalists and musicians who were fortunate enough to meet him have said that he was a down-to-earth, unpretentious guy in spite of his musical genius – and this is not something you see every day

He will be sorely missed.

 

Remembering Natalie Cole

By Ernest Barteldes

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Natalie Cole didn’t really register into my musical radar during her early career – in the 1980s I was deep into doing musical research on the origins of blues and jazz and was listening to stuff no one my age did – my ‘pop’ was stuff like Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Otis Redding, Etta James and Chuck Berry plus jazz icons such as Dave Brubeck and Louis Armstrong (thanks to this, I am able to write about music for all of you).

But when Cole released her now-classic Unforgettable… With Love (Elektra, 1991) I paid attention. I had been a fan of her father’s work, and it was refreshing to hear an album recorded with actual musicians at a time when everyone else seemed to rely synthesizers and computers. The title track, a duet with Natalie and her dad, became her signature song and was a bit overplayed at a time, but listening to the whole album reveals a burgeoning jazz singer with great pipes that completely changed her career.

I remember hearing another less-famous duet – one she recorded with Frank Sinatra on his “Duets” album (Capitol, 1993). The song was George and Ira Gershwin’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” in which she marvelously scatted during the instrumental break, making me remember of how Ella Fitzgerald improvised when singing alongside Sinatra over the years. That made me really pay attention to her, and from that point on I found myself with great respect to her talent.

I only got to hear her live once –  I am not sure if it was 2001 or 2002 – on a double bill at the City Center with Ray Charles. It was a memorable concert for many reasons: it was only my second show in New York, and I was thrilled to be able to hear two living legends on a single day.  We had lousy seats on the sixth floor, but the sound quality was great. Ray Charles kicked off the proceedings, doing classic songs such as “Hit The Road, Jack” and “Georgia on My Mind” – a tight set in which he played as many tunes as he could with the time he had.

Most of the audience was apparently there for Ray, so when he ended his set a lot of people left, which gave my companion and I a chance to sneak into a lower floor with better seats (we could have been ejected, but the person I went with had a bit of a devil-may-care attitude about things).  She came on after about half an hour. She was dressed in a form-fitting red dress and was very charming with the audience.  She sang mostly tunes from “Unforgettable” and “Stardust” (Elektra, 1996), closing with her R&B hit “This Will Be,” the sole song from her early career.

When I heard about her untimely passing, I found myself thinking about that one show I saw – a very happy occasion and a great memory of not one but two great performers who are now no longer among us – but still with us through the music they left behind.