[by Ken Hunt, London] “How unseemly it is to follow anyone slavishly,” was ECM’s press release’s free (one suspects) translation for the title track in 2013. Performing Muhlis Akarsu’s Kula Kulluk Yakýîir Mı therefore could be perceived as a pointed choice since he died in a firebombing in 1993 aged 45 or so. He belonged to the Alevćlik (Alevi) sect. Within Islam, Alevism is seen as a Turkish- slash Turkish-diaspora-based Shia sect retaining Sufi colourings. Furthermore, Alevism espouses poetry, music and dance.
Erdal Erzincan plays the bağlama – the long-necked lute or saz anglicised as baglama while Kayhan Kalhor is the project’s kamancheh (spike fiddle) player. As sometimes occurs with ECM releases in my specific areas of expertise or experience, this album misses the
trick of failing to contextualise such magnificent music. Exhibit 1 for the prosecution is the lack of information about the four-section medley of “traditionals” called Intertwining Melodies, given that the musicians are Iranian (Kalhor) and Anatolian (Erzincan).
Further suspicions might be fed by ECM’s seemingly slavish art-direction house style. It extols image over text and here it sidesteps a deliberate cultural positioning. For example, the sleeve artwork is a monochrome Bosporus (by photographer: Ara Güler) in full ECM art-direction conformity. Here design does a disservice to a remarkable improvised music.
This duo’s drawing attention to what many Muslims would perceive as unorthodoxy is a testimony of the duo’s musical nonconformity and philosophical surefootedness.
Captured live by Bursa Uğur Mumcu Sahnesi in February 2011, what these two musicians achieve on their joint flight paths of the kemancheh and baglama, with the rise and fall of the melodic lines, is nothing short of stupendous. Quibbles aside, musically it is one of the finest collaborations ECM has ever brought together. Masterful stuff. Kula Kulluk Yakışir Mı (ECM Records ECM 2181, 2013)
This is an expanded version of a review that appeared in the December 2013 issue of UK-based monthly magazine Jazzwise.