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MARIA FARANTOURI, CIHAN TÜRKOGLU – BEYOND THE BORDERS / ECM 2585

Maria Farantouri: vocals; Cihan Türkoglu: saz, kopuz, vocals; Anja Lechner: violoncello; Meri Vardanyan: kanon; Christos Barbas: ney; Izzet Kizil: percussion

The album title is the programme in this meeting of remarkable artists brought together to arrange and interpret traditional music of Greece, Turkey, Lebanon and Armenia, and to play original songs by Anatolian saz player Cihan Türkoglu and lyricist Agathi Dimitroukas. In the spirit of the project, the new songs also bridge cultures and idioms. Legendary Greek singer Maria Farantouri, once famously hailed as “the Callas of the people”, excels in this music beyond the borders, having worked with a vast range of artists - from Mikis Theodorakis to Charles Lloyd, from Leo Brouwer to Mercedes Sosa. German cellist Anja Lechner, a classical musician primarily, in this context draws on a knowledge of folk forms gained partly through interpreting the works of Armenian-Greek philosopher-composer Gurdjieff. Armenian-born, French-based kanon (zither) player Meri Vardanyan has previously appeared on ECM as a member of the Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble. Ney player and ethnomusicologist Christos Barbas, from Thessaloniki, has played everything from music of the baroque to ragas. Percussionist ?zzet K?z?l grew up in Eastern Turkey in an environment dominated by Sufi rhythms and has worked in many transcultural ventures with artists from Natacha Atlas to Theodossi Spazzov, along the way evolving new approaches to percussion. In brief, each of the musicians here has a history both of working sensitively within traditions and, no less respectfully, extending those traditions through collaboration.

The connections between the music of the countries bordering the Mediterranean had long been of interest to Maria Farantouri and after encountering the work of Cihan Türkoglu – Turkish-born but resident in Athens for a decade - proposed his project to ECM. Producer Manfred Eicher subsequently worked with the newly assembled group, helping to prepare the material for the June 2017 recording at Sierra Studios in Athens and the debut performance at the Herod Atticus Conservatory as part of the Athens Festival.

The concept of respecting the past and embracing the future is central to Cihan Türkoglu’s personal ideology. Originally self-taught on baglama, the Turkish lute also called the saz, he broadened his scope with classical cello studies, and then deepened his baglama playing by studying with one of the instrument’s great masters in Turkey, Mehmet Erenler.

After a flurry of hand drums, Cihan’s is the first voice heard on Beyond The Borders, taking up the story of “The Bridge of Drama” which Farantouri concludes, raising the emotional temperature of this traditional folk song from Greek Macedonia with her fabled contralto framed by ney, saz and kanon.

Maria Farantouri’s voice and Anja Lechner’s cello make for a compelling textural blend in “Yo era ninya” (“I was a girl”), a traditional Sephardic song of the Spanish Jews of Smyrna, and in “Wa Habibi” (“My Beloved”) the well-known Christian hymn originating from Lebanon and Syria, both delivered with a great deal of feeling.

On “Ta panda rei”, Cihan Türkoglu sets to music Heraclitus’s famous dictum “Everything flows”, embodying the sentiment in a surging river of sound that carries Farantouri’s voice with it.

Cello opens “Lahtara gia zoi” (“Yearning for Life”), an original by Türkoglu and Dimitrouka on which Farantouri sings on behalf of the refugees, the uprooted, with the sound of the ney offering plaintive counterpoint.

The album ends with an arrangement of an Armenian traditional song preserved by composer-ethnomusicologist Komitas Vardapet.

Further, related listening on ECM: Maria Farantouri can be heard on recordings with Eleni Karaindrou including Elegy of the Uprooting, and on Athens Concert with Charles Lloyd. Meri Vardanyan plays music of Gurdjieff and Komitas with the Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble under the direction of Levon Eskenian on two discs for ECM New Series. Anja Lechner has recorded extensively for the label, with more than twenty albums in contexts from core classical repertoire to contemporary composition and improvisation. Her collaborations with Greek artists include two albums with Vassilis Tsabropoulos, Chants, Hymns and Dances and Melos, both incorporating music of Gurdjieff. With French pianist François Couturier she has recorded music of Komitas, Gurdjieff and Mompou on Moderato cantabile. Lechner’s most recent ECM recording is Die Nacht, with music of Schubert, played with Argentine guitarist Pablo Márquez as duo partner.

Maria Farantouri, Cihan Türkoglu and the Beyond The Borders ensemble appear at the Esslingen Jazz Festival in September, and play further concerts in Greece in October.

© Studio Svengali, November 2019
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