DoubleMoon 0040
label website

If you follow the Istanbuli music scene from afar via his fan club's YouTube clips, you realize that Turkish clarinetist Hüsnü Şenlendirici is much in demand and very active. You'll also know that the expression of his playing -- in my estimation the most gifted in this field, followed by Bülent 'Kirpi' Altinbaş -- depends much on the skill and mood level of his given compatriots. On the newly formed Taksim Trio's eponymous first release, everyone is right on the mark and deep in the psychic groove. When an album doesn't wear out its welcome after excessively many happy returns, its substance is solid. This one stands the test of time.

With Aytaç Doğan on the Turkish kanun zither and Ismail Tunçbilek on the acoustic and electric long-neck bağlama lute, the setting is deceptively minimal yet sounds far denser than a trio formation might suggest. Without any percussion, time keeping is far more elastic and perfectly suited to the gentle overall mood of this instrumental album. The keen psychic bond between these musicians makes for true ensemble magic. The timbres -- watery ripples for the lute, piquant metallic light refractions for the kanun, soft reediness for the vibrato-rich clarinet -- combine in very interesting ways. Perhaps most fascinating of all, each instrument's use of pauses uncannily suggests their being carried on the breath even though only the blackwood really is.

This breathy quality unmoored from repetitive fixed beats soon sets up a highly legato suspension, a magical ebb and flow with unpredictable shifts, rushes and hesitations like water meandering, cascading, glittering in pools, splashing off rocks, bubbling and spraying. This improvisational non-metric tact permeates the entire album. That's fitting since taqsim refers to solo improvisation.

As the Wikipedia puts it, "taqsim (Turkish: taksim) is the name of a melodic improvisation style that could be metric or non-metric, which usually precedes a composition in Arabic music and Turkish music. The taqsim is usually performed by a solo instrument yet sometimes the soloist can be backed by a percussionist or an instrumentalist playing a drone on the tonic of the maqam. In vocal music, a similar style is called layali. It is widely seen as an art of improvisation in a specific maqam, but usually modulation to other maqams are present in a taqsim. Taqsim traditionally follows a certain melodic progression. Starting from the tonic of the maqam, the first few measures of the improvisation remains in the lower ajnas of the maqam, by that introducing the maqam to the ear of the listener. Following the introduction, the improviser is free to move anywhere in the maqam and even modulate to other maqams, as long as he returns to the original. Taqsim is considered by many, a connection to the spiritual world. While performing a Taqsim, one would feel driven by an external force. He would experience the maqam and its divine expression for himself."

Pulling it off as a trio of three soloists all engaged in simultaneous taksim is where the magic enters. None of these masters is mere accompanist for another. They accompany each other while soloing all at once. It is this exceptionally fluid, filigreed give-and-take that makes Taksim Trio so fresh each time. The melodic themes revealed inside these tunes are truly haunting but quite impossible to extricate to hum by themselves as one would popular ear worms. That's when realization of the innate complexity dawns on the listener; like one of those endlessly ornate Arabian patterns.

Filled with tremolos like leaves rustling in the wind, subtle flurries of harp-like glissandi, Hüsnü on the Armenian duduk oboe with its tweaked melancholy, Taksim Trio is a masterpiece of contemporary introspective Turkish chamber music. To fully appreciate the context of this music, I recommend Jason Goodwin's The Snake Stone - A Yashim the Eunuch Mystery [Faber & Faber 978-0-571-23647-3]. Set in the Istanbul of 1838, this historical detective novel does for the time and city what John Berendt's The City of Falling Angels did for Venice. It conjures up the sights, sounds and smells in truly evocative fashion to make the perfect literary counterpoint to the Taksim Trio's musical exploits.