Kalan 1998
Label website
Due to a bad wrist inflammation destined to turn him inventor of the fretless guitar during his formative development, Ankara-born guitarist Erkan Ogur began on the violin before picking up the banjo-like cumbus from itinerant wedding musicians. Exposed to Hendrix on the radio, he studied guitar in high school and committed to full-scale conservatory studies - but not before first exploring an interlude as Physics major with a scholarship to study in Munich, and a two-year road trip through the US as traveling Blues musician.

Performing with Turkish Ethno-Pop diva Sezen Aksu on saz and guitar, his first album published under his own name was Searching for the Fretless Guitar [Gekirdek, 1983] to be followed, in due course, by Fog [1989], Fretless [Feuer & Eis, Germany, 1994], today's 1996 release on the Kalan label, Once There was a Scent to a Rose [Kalan, 1998], Nothing but Infinity with saz/cura player Okan Murat Öztürk [Kalan 1999], Anatolia: The Cradle [Kalan, 2000] and Fuad with Djivan Gasparyan [Kalan, 2001]. He also composed the soundtrack to Yavuz Turgul's film Eskiya (The Bandit) and plays in Öztürk's "Bengi saz Trio".

His still unrecorded "Telvin Trio" concentrates on Coltrane/Evans improv based on the traditional Turkish maqam system. For 20 years, he's played fretless guitar, kopuz, e-bow and other traditional stringed instruments with some of the best Turkish musicians. He's also played with Pat Metheny of whose stylistic essence one finds much on the gloriously lyrical Bir Ömürlük Misafir reviewed here.

In fact, the dreamy opening track "Mor Daglar" recalls elements of the famous "Bat" cut on Metheny's Offramp, while the following "Agirlama" points at "Missouri Sky", Charlie Haden's rotund bass replaced with the twin acoustic guitars of Philip Catherine and Bülent Ortacgil. These parallels are mentioned not to suggest any sycophant leanings. Far from it. Ogur is a highly original and gifted inventor clearly in no need to stand on anyone's shoulders. However, if you're presently as unfamiliar with him as I was prior to this -- belated -- discovery, this tie-in properly points at Erkan's artistic stature.

Deeply lyrical, what differentiates him from Metheny is the occasional quarter-tone insert. It subtly compresses the usual half-tone interval to give an effect similar to a deliberately mistuned piano - the aural equivalent to the sepia-tinted patina of old black'n'white photography. Ogur's tone is fatter, too, but he's equally charmed to suggest enormous depth of meaning with the most minimal of means. Like a world-class sketch artist uncannily capturing the very essence of a subject with a whimsical outline, Ogur's a master of poetry. He tells expansive stories as much with the implied subtext of emotive ambiance, the potent silences between notes, the vast spaciousness of the celestial firmament above the earthbound plains, as he does with his strings or voice.

Certain tracks like "Mamos", "Cayin Öte Yüzünde", the classic "Neden Gledim Istanbul'a" and the title track are based on Anatolian folklore where Erkan intones the plaintive melody solo or is accompanied by Sezen Aksu, with very simple rhythmic accompaniment on a bendir frame drum, some ney fragments or even subtle percussion/cymbals touches.

"Home Comings" is an ephemeral duet with Philip Catherine, heavily satured in moody feelings of blues and mauves, atmospherically reminiscent of the Canadian guitarist Tino Izzo who arrives at similar results via overdubs. The wistful "Sis" was first penned by Mikis Theodorakis and now unfurls between Erkan's classical guitar and Aydin Esen's fractal keyboard.

Nearly exclusively focused on mid- to low-tempo acoustic ballads, the overpowering aroma of Bir Ömürlük Misafir is one of mellifluous charm, a certain melancholy and the kind of tweaked depth that naturally accompanies it. That's a thoroughly addictive combination. It would perfectly fit into much of Manfred Eichner's famous oeuvre on the ECM label. Even though not a current release, Bir can be readily mail-ordered from Kalan. Which, incidentally, is a virtual track I'm going to carve myself shortly, to delve further into the musical canon of this first-rate guitarist. Once bitten, twice cursed? Something like that. You can tell I'm quite smitten...