Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol & Whatsnext?

The Rise Up: Stories of Strife, Struggle and Inspiration
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A complex but not complicated work The Rise Up is a tripartite orchestral tone poem dealing with Sufi, Sephardic Jewish and Muslim Middle Eastern history with American soprano saxophone master Dave Liebman as chief soloist. With each section divided into three parts, Turkish-American composer Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol’s score melds scraps of the region’s traditional music with explicit Jazz improvisations and Westernized arrangements reminiscent of Gil Evans’ work.

Known for his inspiring improvising and pedagoguery, Liebman has performed with everyone from Elvin Jones to Evan Parker. A multi-instrumentalist and ethnomusicologist composer, on the faculty of Boston’s New England Conservatory, Sanlıkol has composed operas and worked with everyone from Esperanza Spalding to the American Composers Orchestra. These orchestrations for 27 musicians and singers involve a clutch of traditional instruments from Arab countries as well as brass, woodwinds and strings.

The skill of these arrangements throughout Rumi, Sephardim and Sinan lies in form integration. So, for instance, in the “A Vicious Murder” section of Rumi, resounding darbuka beats accented by brass and crested by Liebman’s souk-like reed riffs are subtly supplanted by Jazz-based piano, bass and drum beats that intensify the saxophonist’s curlicue vibrations. Additionally while Liebman’s high-pitched glissandi move form fragment to vamp when meeting stacked vocal choruses on the subsequent “Rumi’s Solitude”t.

His reed control and sophistication are particular necessary during the many orchestral passages that blend variations of brass, woodwind and string chorus into motifs that are gentle and crepuscule. At the same time Liebman’s horn project disparate identities and power as it does on Sephardim’s three sections. He uses hardened reed snarls when facing bellicose ensemble explosions following a measured castanet and tambourine undertow reflecting the Jews’ 1492 expulsion from Spain; yet they take on a chromatic hopeful tone when mixed with undulating piano lines and Ladino vocal warbling on the final “A New Land, A New Music.”

Moving through the sequences that make up Sinan, besides Liebman’s adaptations, the cascading and contrapuntal timbres alter as well. There are sections reflecting brassy big band swing, military-type marches with clashing cymbals, muezzin-prayer inferences, Jazz piano vamps and descriptive passages where oboe flutters seem to have migrated from a pastoral symphony. The concluding “The Owl Song”, highlights a full-orchestra, nearly unison celebration in an architecture showcase that includes mature saxophone trilling culminating in heartfelt reed flutters.

Taken as a whole The Rise Up confirms that talents of composer and soloist in the creation of a suite that could be repeatedly appreciated.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: I. Rumi: 1. The Sun of Tabriz 2. A Vicious Murder 3, Rumi’s Solitude II. Sephardim: 1. Spain, 1492 2. Temmuz 3. A New Land, a New Music III. Sinan: 1. A Confrontation in Anatolia 2. Rise Thru the Barracks 3. The Owl Song

Personnel: Dave Liebman (soprano saxophone); woodwinds + brass; Utar Artun (piano); Phil Sargent (guitars); Fernando Huergo (bass); Bertram Lehmann (drums, tam tam); George Lernis (darbuka: tef, nekkare, kos, tambourine, castanets, triangle, cymbals, tubular bells); Spyridon Antonopoulos, George Fitopoulos, Haralambos Hamos, Ridvan Aydinli (vocal); Ken Schaphorst; Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol (conductor)