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JT Video Premiere: “The Owl Song” by Mehmet Ali Sanlikol and Whatsnext?

The track, featuring a Dave Liebman saxophone solo, is from the jazz orchestra's most recent album The Rise Up

Mehmet Ali Sanlikol and Dave Liebman in the studio
Mehmet Ali Sanlikol (left) and Dave Liebman in the studio (photo: Christo Tsiaras)

JazzTimes is honored to premiere the video for “The Owl Song” by composer/multi-instrumentalist Mehmet Ali Sanlikol and his jazz orchestra Whatsnext? The track, written by Sanlikol, appears on the group’s latest album, The Rise Up: Stories of Strife, Struggle and Inspiration, which was released in August 2020 on Dünya Records. 

On The Rise Up—a suite in three parts, each of which in turn is made up of three tracks—Whatsnext? is conducted by Ken Schaphorst, and instrumentalists such as bassist Fernando Huergo, drummer Bertram Lehmann, and percussionist George Lernis Darbuka are joined by special guest Dave Liebman on soprano saxophone. It was Liebman, the featured soloist throughout, who gave Sanlikol the initial impetus to compose the piece, which chronicles three events in Middle Eastern history that were at first traumatic but proved in the end to be inspirational—conveying a message of hope and resilience that’s welcome indeed after the misfortunes that have afflicted our world over the past 12 months.

Sanlikol says of this track: “’The Owl Song’ is the conclusion to both the entire album and the final three pieces, which form the story of Sinan the architect. Sinan, forcibly taken by the Ottomans as a young Orthodox Christian boy, came to embrace his new Muslim identity and rose to great heights in the mid-16th century as the master architect of some of the greatest mosques in the world. As it can be observed toward the end of the video, Sinan often placed what seems to be the figure of an owl facing down the people entering mosques—it is possible that the owl, representing wisdom in ancient Greece, was transmitted into Islam through Sufism (Islamic mysticism). Here I decided to balance the qualities of the Rast makam (mode) of classical Turkish music with characteristics of African-American gospel music within a simpler composition, which leads to a climactic ending highlighting Dave Liebman, to whom I will remain forever grateful for asking me to write this composition featuring himself. In the end, I could not think of a better ending than Sinan’s owl to this very special and spiritual album.”

For more information on Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, visit his website.