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Burhan Ocal and Istanbul Oriental Ensemble: Caravanserai

Turkish percussionist Burhan Ocal is, in his culture, a celebrity with a cause, and he has been branching out in the last few years. You may have heard his expansive, seductive musicality alongside the Kronos Quartet, with whom he performed and for whom he has composed, or in a jazz context with Joe Zawinul or George Gruntz. Now hear him in burrowing into the heart of his own Turkish gypsy heritage, on Caravanserai (Network 33.990; 60:40), by the Istanbul Oriental Ensemble, of which Ocal is the director. This veritable all-star gathering of Roma musicians stands to help spread the Turkish musical message, both through this impressive album and through touring on both sides of the Atlantic.

True to the nature of gypsy life and by the title itself-a “Caravanserai” is an instant village, created by the mobilization of caravans-this music, mesmerizing and intricate in its systems of ensemble interplay, has roots in Turkey and the Balkans, and the gypsy trail from India to Europe. It extends from musical traditions dating back more than a hundred years, and by extension roughly a millennium. Ocal himself is best known as a percussionist, playing drums like the darbuka and kos, but also is skilled on string instruments, including the oud and the divan-saz.

One sad note: Clarinetist and vocalist Ferdi Nadaz died just after completing this recording, making the project, by association, a tribute to him. Ocal’s song “Ya Kerim!,” whose exclamation point is validated more through depth of feeling than fervency, is specifically dedicated to Nadaz’s memory.

Originally Published