It should not, but it takes a several fleeting moments to get used to the idea that Cuban Portrait is a record by an accomplished Turkish pianist and musician, Emir Ersoy, who is partnered by other Turkish musicians. It should not and happily, these feelings fade away completely after the last three songs are heard. For the record, though, here is a thought: Why did the pianist not pour more of that molten Afro-Cuban and Afro-Caribbean music into the Turkish coffee pot and allow the decoction to brew completely?
The answer might probably have been as simple as: The brief is to make a “Cuban” music record. That being the case, “Delayed Tunes” suffices to provide ample and glorious proof that the scheme has worked. That track is a masterful exercise in swaggering and dancing navigation through the various kinds of “clave.” Emir Ersoy, a musician of considerable talent and intellect makes all this possible. There is 3/2 “guaguancó clave” and 2/3 “son clave”, in several combinations that hide and reveal the backbeat of the music. All this is chopped and sliced into Afro-feel 6/8 “abakuá-derived clave.” This joyous rhythm inflects all the music on this record.
There is plenty of this rhythm in “Rhodesilla.” The song is a tribute to a legendary touring wrestler. Infusing that sometimes graceful (when it is classically practiced) sport with “clave” is interesting, although this could very well be a throwback to the Brasilian, “capoeira.” Still, that a Latin-American song should address what is certainly an enduring Turkish passion is more than simply quaint. “Back Street” is more like a bolero and there is some inspired pianism here. “Mr Dolphin” is one of the most interesting songs not only because of its expert use of 6/8 “clave,” but because it soon melts into a Brasilian “samba.” The changes are seamless and the song is infectious and memorable.
“Cuban Sauce” is an exploration into a musical landscape where Turkish harmonies and rhythms could mix like wet paint, with Afro-Caribbean rhythms. The flute playing of Serdar Barcin is a strong reminder that Turkey is the home of the great “Mevlevi” tradition practiced by the Erguner clan. Where is that Turkish Ney? And why does Ersoy not employ more? Nevertheless, it does get better. “Tobago” weaves this Dervish whirling with greater intensity and this is somewhat reminescent of the early “mugami” musical scales of Aziza Mustapha Zadeh. “Tassa” rhythms are also featured in “Tobago” as they are in “Port of Spain” and there is more than a brief flirtation with the simulated sound of steel drums from Ersoy.
“Caribe-Ann” superbly weaves the classic African song, “Malaika” – made famous by Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte – with sophisticated Afro-Caribbean rhythms. The interplay between Ersoy and his rhythm section – both bass and percussion is sublime. Moreover, Ersoy emerges as a true virtuoso. Of course, no Afro-Cuban musical expedition would be complete without a group of excellent musicians and Ersoy has done exceedingly well in the overall design of the sound of this project. Barcin’s work on saxophones and flute is profoundly joyful. The twin trumpets of Serkan Ciftci and Semih Sural play no less a wondrous role in this music; trombonist, Egmen Kerpicciler is deeply moving and the percussion ensemble is breathtaking. More music from this well-knit group is eagerly awaited.
Delayed Tunes; Cuban Sauce; Rhodesilla; Back Street; Mr. Dolphin; Tobago; Port of Spain; Caribe-Ann.
Emir Ersoy: piano, E-piano, synthesizer; Turgut Alp Bekoglu: drums, timbales; Eylem Pelit: electric bass; Serdar Barcin: saxophones, flute; Ales Ozturkmen: congas, hand percussion; Jozi Levi: pandeiro, surdo, tamborime (5); Sarp Maden: electric guitar (2); Egmen Kerpicciler: trombone (2, 6); Serkan Ciftci: trumpet (2, 3); Semih Sural: trumpet (2).
Emir Ersoy on the web: www.emirersoy.com
Review written by: Raul da Gama