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Asya Iclerinden Balkanlara: Saz, various artists

PostPosted: Fri Dec 12, 2008 11:09 pm
by Gordon Neill

Following up on a recommendation from Chris Potts ... php?t=9299 , I wasn’t sure about this CD on a first squint. It came across as a dormitory of very old traditional pieces, refugees from the likes of Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan, tired and horizontal. I wanted something sazzy, something with a bit of get up and go, rather than historically-important snoring.

But, as my eyes acclimatised to the subdued gloom, I became aware of a few standout tracks, slowly getting to their feet. I can still find plenty of things to complain about (the older I get, the easier it is). There are too many diddlee-dee instrumentals for my taste. Many of the tracks are obviously transcribed from old LPs (although, in fairness, the surface noise is reproduced in glittering digital quality). And the recording quality of a few tracks is downright shoddy. ‘Hopuzum’, from Kyrgyzstan, sounds as though it was recorded in the engineer’s bedroom with one of those cheap 1970s cassette recorders. I swear that, at one point, there’s a muffled noise as, possibly, someone’s mum opens the door and their homework is hastily thrown over the machine.

The thing is, though, that ‘Hopuzum’ is actually a beautiful song. If you screw up your ears and try to imagine the white noise away, if you try and pretend that the singer was in the same room as the microphone, you find that you’re listening to a gorgeous piece of melancholy. The singer sounds as though she’s complaining about something, probably some bloke. Whatever it is, I’m on her side. If it hasn’t happened already, someone needs to record this song using electricity. It could be a smash hit in world music circles and sell several copies.

Another giant of a song is ‘Tanbour ve Ay Shah’. I have a short attention span, so I normally regard tracks taller than 7 minutes as the height of folly. But this one’s quick on its feet and surprisingly nimble at changing direction. It starts out for the first few minutes as a pleasant doodle on the saz, but then breaks out into massed saz and drums. The weird thing is that it sounds like an astonishing link between Iranian folk and a strain of Scottish music. I was joking, a couple of weeks ago, when I described the Saz as ‘bagpipes on strings’. On the basis of ‘Tanbour ve Ay Shah’, I think it was a sober assessment. With its almost military stomp, I can imagine bagpipes fitting into this song quite nicely. But please don’t let that put you off.

Best of all, possibly, is ‘Yoru Guzel’. The recording quality, while not as jaw-droppingly bad as ‘Hopuzum’ still verges on the primitive. But this time it simply adds to the ethereal feel of the song, with the zippy saz runs spiralling crazily upwards and disappearing into the background noise. At times, the slurred soulful singing sounds in danger of also getting sucked into the ether. But the bloke sticks manfully to his complaint about something or other. Probably some woman. I suspect the blokes in Turkey have much the same problems as us.

Even the instrumentals have grown on me. Some still verge on the plunking irritating but, at their best, there is a wild, almost psychedelic, feel to them which is deeply appealing.

Overall, this is probably a bit too hardcore-ethnic for my tastes. But my ears are starting to acclimatise to the lo-fi and the fierce saz instrumentals. They don’t bleed so much anymore Recommended, if you feel in need of something a bit off-piste. I don’t think you’ll find it on the map as far as Amazon are concerned, but it can easily be found at, which seems to deal in all things Turkish.