Turkish music specialist and multi-instrumentalist/composer Burhan Öçal is an expert on the Gypsy musical tradition of Thrace as well as that of the ancient Ottoman Empire. His CD, “Caravanserai”, recorded with the Istanbul Oriental Ensemble, takes the listener on an aural journey across time. Close your eyes and you’ll feel as if you are following a trade caravan across Asia Minor, heading for the Silk Road. Ah, one can just smell the hot camel’s breath, frankincense and burning desert sands. The music is utterly scrumptious faire. If you’ve read Michael Chabon’s wonderful historical novel, “Gentlemen of the Road”, then imagine this music as the soundtrack.
This recording encompasses the musical happenings that would have occurred along each oasis. Songs such as “Hali Dokuyan Kiz”, “Ates Basinda” and “Ya Kerim” convey this feeling. But not every melody is an ode to the lands of Suleyman and Saladin. The song “Askin Sarabi” gives more than a passing nod to traditional Bulgarian wedding music. While “Bozkirda Dugun” has elements of Yiddish klezmer for flavoring. “Caravanserai” is an excellent example of Gypsy (Roma) folk combined with makam and taqsim stylized Turkish classical music performed at its very best. There are many gripping and stirring performances on this CD. “Caravanserai” also has some of the best traditional kaval (traditional Turkish flute) playing that you will find anywhere. Of special note, this was vocalist and clarinetist Ferdi Nadaz’ last recorded work. He died shortly after completing this record. On “Ya Kerim” you bare witness to Nadaz’s lofty, foreboding vocals and haunting, obsidian-dark, spoken commentary. This song is an ode to the ephemeral state of the human condition, the good, the bad and the ugly.
I would also recommend Öçal’s “Sultan’s Secret Door”, as well as his solo disc of 17th century Turkish classical music, “Ottoman Garden” which received the Prix Choc award for musical excellence. If this style of music is of interest to you, do not hesitate to pick up a copy “Caravanserai”.
~ Michael Lohr