Friday, September 14, 2018

Minor Empire - Uprooted (2018)

Homeless Melody: Minor Empire Uses Psychedelic Guitars and Traditional Turkish Melodies to Paint a Portrait of Migrant Heartache on Uprooted

Minor Empire’s Ozgu Ozman and Ozan Boz felt a visceral loss as the movement that started in Istanbul’s Gezi Park was crushed by the Turkish government. They felt a similar loss at the dispersal of the Standing Rock protests as indigenous people were silenced. Then they felt this same loss’s echoes in Ontario, where they least expected it.

Though they had lived in Canada for years, they watched their sense of home evaporate before their eyes.

“It was a living hell for us, watching these young hopeful people die in protests, watching governments cave to corporations and destructive goals. It is hard to convey how angry we were. I wanted to bring the world down on the heads of these politicians,” recalls Ozman, the group’s poignant vocalist and lyricist. “It was a powerful feeling of total injustice, of homelessness, when home had had such potential and such promise. It’s a feeling people are grappling with everywhere.”

The Toronto-based group harnesses lithe folk-inspired melodies, lush guitar, and stunning percussion to convey the disorientation, the grief, and the remaining embers of hope on Uprooted, a progressive testament to the heartache of alienation. “It was like an avalanche. The country changed from that moment,” Boz recounts. “We couldn't go back to Turkey and be comfortable. I suddenly felt homeless, that I don't’ belong there anymore with my ideas or lifestyle. I really felt uprooted, roots pulled up and thrown into the sea. It broke my heart.”

From this pain flowed a beautiful, boundary-pushing suite of songs that artfully juxtapose the raw yearning of regional traditions with sophisticated, multi-layered arrangements hinting at ambient and psychedelic explorations. The combination, supported by some of Toronto’s strongest musicians, has won the group acclaim in Canada. Now Minor Empire is bringing its latest recording and live repertoire to the US for an early autumn tour.

It all began with Ozman humming and murmuring folk songs. The duo, who had migrated to Canada at the same time, had been away from their native country for three or four years. Yet suddenly, Ozman was haunted by snatches of song that she kept revisiting under her breath.

The duo realized that in that humming, a new artistic direction lay. “The idea did not come from the void,” says Boz. “In Turkey, Turkish music is everywhere; it’s the soundtrack of your life. You hear it in a cab, a restaurant, your friend's house, you hear it even when you really don’t want to. But you don’t hear it at all here. This silence cleansed our ears and we started missing what we remembered.”

Minor Empire evolved quickly from that realization, as Ozman and Boz had already been collaborating musically for some time. “We wanted to reflect our needs, to address what we needed to express, a true expression of ourselves,” reflects Ozman. “Because at the time we were ready to record this trip-hop/art-pop project, but we decided we had to shelve that.”

Their approach to working with the traditional melodies they remembered from their youth departed from that of other artists, be they Western musicians dialoguing with Turkish forms or Turkish bands tackling Western pop or rock. A talented and exploratory guitarist, Boz heard something completely different underpinning Ozman’s gorgeous vocals.

“I don’t play a traditional instrument, I play electric guitar,” he explains. “What I listened to was psychedelic rock music, not traditional Turkish songs. Our music had to sound like who and what we are, which is a very defined combination of things. We tried to keep it that way without molding Turkish music into Western forms, or vice versa. We wanted the elements to coexist, not be forced together.” This approach bears bold fruit on original tracks like the “Yurtsuz” and the sweeping album opener, “Dunya.”

The group draws on more than folk melodies and lyrics, however. Ozman often turns to the rhythmic feels associated with Turkey’s regions. She felt especially drawn to the particular pulse of her coastal home province of Mersin, with its mellower, more laid-back rhythms. “My hometown is on the southern coastline and has a very different pace. The folk songs are almost reggae-like, very happy,” she says. “I realized I loved that feel, so I started listening to a lot of music from my hometown and to sing and internalize them. They had a lot of joyfulness, offering some solace amid my troubles.”

Ozman’s renditions of traditional songs boldly hold their own, not bending to fit the sensibilities of Boz’s instrumental arrangements on tracks like “Iki Keklik,” even when going head-to-head with electronic beats and trip-hop vibes. (“Mendilimin Yesili”) Boz’s sometimes slinky, sometimes ethereal, sometimes bluesy guitar forms a bridge between the vocal melodies and the soundscapes they float over, especially on the Saharan blues-inspired “Gunes Turkusu.”

Boz’s stylistic freedom translates into a broad instrumental palette as well. Taiko drums and timbales join traditional Turkish instruments like the qanun (zither) and bendir (frame drum), if the song’s emotional narrative is enriched by that sound. (“Tutam Yar Elinden”) At the same time, he balances the epic moments and crescendos with atmospheric interludes, a way for listeners to catch their breath amid the intensity.

“By the time you finish the third track, there has been so much to absorb, so many peaks and valleys,” Boz notes. “We like to include ambient tracks and begin crafting tracklists as we write songs. The connecting pieces are not random. They are composed to walk a listener from one tune to the next.”

The complexity and careful structure serve first and foremost to communicate the urgency of the feelings that the events of 2013 sparked in Minor Empire’s core duo. Though years have passed, the urgency and resonance remain. “The feeling of homelessness is a constant struggle,” Ozman says. “I had this energy in me, running and running but didn’t know what I would find at the end. I lost my home country and didn’t feel like there was any point in continuing to try. I felt directionless.”

Yet through it all, Ozman and Boz see moments of hope, a small light that may inspire other migrants, exiles, and refugees. “You struggle to create your own space, your own home, your own oasis,” Ozman muses. “I always thought you carry your home with you, that I could live anywhere, I just needed to be at peace with myself. That’s still there, even though I feel this bitterness.”

01 - Dunya
02 - Yurtsuz
03 - Iki Keklik
04 - Ag Elime Mor Kinalar Yaktilar
05 - Tohum
06 - Bahar
07 - Gunes Turkusu
08 - Mendilimin Yesili
09 - Istanbul'dan Uskudar'a Yol Gider
10 - Babam
11 - Selanik Turkusu
12 - Uyuttum Atlari
13 - Tutam Yar Elinden

U P C O M I N G   S H O W S

Oct 18, 2018, Chop Suey, Seattle, WA
Oct 24, 2018, Maëlstrom, Quebec City, QC
Oct 26, 2018, Casa del Popolo, Montreal, QC
Oct 27, 2018, Le Zénob, Trois-Rivières, QC
Oct 28, 2018, National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage, Ottawa, ON
Oct 30, 2018, Raven and Republic, North Bay, ON
Nov 01, 2018, Phog Lounge, Windsor, ON
Nov 02, 2018, Silence Sounds, Guelph, ON
Nov 03, 2018, Burdock, Toronto, ON

Keith Oxman with Dave Liebman in Glimpses, Sept. 21 on CAPRI RECORDS

Tenor saxophonist Keith Oxman partners with legendary sax man David Liebman for new Capri Records release Glimpses

Oxman's working trio with pianist Jeff Jenkins, bassist Ken Walker, and drummer Todd Reid backs the Coltrane-inspired saxophonists in standards and originals

"Keith Oxman is a young man of great consequence. He has learned to function with one foot in the present and the other in the future, while leaning quite heavily in the direction of the future."
- Benny Golson

"Keith Oxman's abilities as a writer make him a force to be reckoned with."
- Ken Dryden, AllMusic

"OxmanŠleans towards bop, but he also throws in a bit of funk and knows how to swing." His tone on the tenor breathes a warm, coaxing fire that he molds into each composition with flair and imagination."
- Jerry D'Souza, All About Jazz

When acclaimed Denver saxophonist Keith Oxman joined forces with the legendary David Liebman, magic happened. Glimpses, out September 21, 2018 on Capri Records, offers listeners more than just a few quick looks at the musical partnership between the two saxophonists. On eight meaty tracks the pair demonstrates virtuosic technique, remarkable musicality, and an astonishing camaraderie.

For more than four decades Oxman listened to and transcribed solos from many jazz greats like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. Among his first transcriptions was one of Liebman's recordings. Through a former student he was able to connect with Liebman's daughter, then the man himself. The two developed a mutual respect, rapport, and friendship that shines brightly on Glimpses. With Oxman on tenor sax and Liebman on soprano and tenor, the artists approach the music with intelligence, sensitivity, and joy. They are ably backed throughout by Oxman's working band with pianist Jeff Jenkins, bassist Ken Walker, and drummer Todd Reid.

Both Oxman and Liebman are devotees of the late, great John Coltrane, a connection which cements their combined sound. "I really enjoyed Keith's compositions that have challenging and interesting harmonic twists and turns, always framed with lyrical, melodic content." says Liebman.

The conversational, musically sensitive relationship between Oxman and Liebman is established on the record's opening track, Oxman's "Shai," in which the horns interact with solo licks and unison statements before breaking off in hard swinging solos. The exquisite ballad "Lenny," another Oxman original, follows with Liebman's smoky soprano saxophone joined by Oxman's sweet tenor. Oxman's "Trane's Pal" pays homage to the inspirational John Coltrane with a punchy head followed by wailing, bop-inspired solos.

Liebman takes the reins on the Ellington classic "In a Sentimental Mood," showing off his masterful musicianship and sense of fun in a duet with pianist Jenkins, whose wistful, extended piano solo leads into Liebman's expressive, searching rendition of the time-honored melody. "Afreaka" by Cedar Walton has Oxman and Liebman trading eights and grooving to a world beat. On Oxman's upbeat "Louminus," the pair exploit the range of their instruments with guttural low notes and wailing altissimo. Oxman alone is featured on the deep catalogue standard "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman" by Leon Rene, and his expressive horn sings on the gorgeous melody. The album closes with the title track "Glimpses," a Liebman original that delivers a powerful double-barreled saxophone tour de force.

Glimpses is a remarkable achievement, bringing together one saxophonist and his trio with a horn legend who remains as receptive to and excited about the music as ever. "I love this process and the ensuing bond that develops so quickly when jazz musicians interact," says Liebman. That bond is evident all over Glimpses, which brims with lyrical melodies, surprising harmonics, fantastic solos, and masterful horn playing.

From the tender age of 12 when he first picked up a tenor sax given to him by a cousin, Denver native Keith Oxman spent his musical career studying jazz greats like Sonny Stitt, Mel Torme, Louis Bellson, Phil Woods, Buddy Rich, Tom Harrell, Jack McDuff, Joe Bonner, and many others. This is Keith's 10th album on the Capri over the last 24 years.

NEA Jazz Master David Liebman is considered a renaissance man in contemporary music with a career stretching nearly fifty years. He has played with masters including Miles Davis, Elvin Jones, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, McCoy Tyner, and others, authored books and instructional DVDs which are acknowledged as classics in the jazz field, and recorded as a leader in styles ranging from classical to rock and free jazz.  He has performed on over 500 recordings with over 200 as a leader/co-leader featuring several hundred original compositions.

Mark Masters with Andrew Cyrille, Oliver Lake, Tim Hagans, Mark Turner and more - Sept. 21 on CAPRI RECORDS

Composer and arranger Mark Masters paints compelling jazz landscapes for eight original works on new Capri Records release Our Métíer

With Andrew Cyrille, Oliver Lake, Mark Turner, Tim Hagans, Gary Foster,
Dave Woodley, Putter Smith, Anna Mjoll and more

"Masters' arrangements allow the freedom for solos that are creative in the extreme."
- Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz

"Masters' arrangements are, no pun intended, masterful."
- Scott Albin, JazzTimes

With his Capri release Our Métíer (September 21, 2018), Mark Masters applies his prodigious talent for painting brilliant, complex, and satisfying jazz landscapes.  The eight Masters compositions featured on the album showcase some of the most adventurous creative improvising musicians in jazz today: Andrew Cyrille, Mark Turner, Oliver Lake, Tim Hagans, Gary Foster, Dave Woodley and Putter Smith. In addition, Masters incorporates the unique voice of Anna Mjoll as an orchestral color, mixing with the instrumental waves in wordless swirls of sound. 

The ensemble that supports these improvisers includes Scott Englebright and Les Lovitt (trumpet), Stephanie O'Keefe (French horn), Les Benedict and Ryan Dragon (trombone), Jerry Pinter, Kirsten Edkins and Bob Carr (woodwinds), Ed Czach (piano), and Craig Fundyga (vibes). The group's big band sound is augmented by bass clarinet and vibes giving the project, at times, an ethereal personality.

In his ten previous projects for Capri Records, Masters has reimagined the music of Lee Konitz, Gary McFarland, Dewey Redman, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker (Steely Dan), Grachan Moncur III and Clifford Brown.

With Our Métíer, Masters has produced a classic "free-bop" large ensemble statement.  One key to the success of the recording is the combination of improvisers completely simpatico with the compositions. In fact, the music was conceived and written specifically for these soloists. The music itself is an artist's canvas filled with all the hues and textures that flow from Masters' creative core.

The opening track "Borne Towards the Stars," inspired by the conclusion of Malcolm Lowry's novel "Under the Volcano," shimmers with atmospheric gravity and features explosive solos by Lake and Hagans.  In "51 West 51st Street," drummer Cyrille establishes the groove after an opening steeped in funk featuring Mjoll and Carr's bass clarinet.  When Hagans and Foster boogaloo into the musical space you can close your eyes and imagine being in Toots Shor's legendary New York City bar.  "Lift" is an understated blues featuring Mjoll's exquisite voice and solid solo work from Mjoll, Lake, Smith and Fundyga.  The harmonically engaging "Ingvild's Dance" with Foster and Turner brings to mind the classic pairing of Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh. "A Précis of Dialogue" is the first of two collective improvisations demonstrating clear textures and sparkling musical interplay with Turner, Foster, Cyrille and Smith.  Foster, Smith, Woodley, and Turner deliver emotionally charged solo statements on the heartbreakingly gorgeous ballad "Dispositions of the Heart."  "Obituary" is Masters' tribute to friends and teachers no longer living.  Far from a dirge, the composition is an up- tempo, celebratory romp that shows off the ensemble in top form.  From the haunting opening and trombone clusters aided by Mjoll to the sophisticated tenor sax and trumpet solos that follow, "Luminescence" brings you the blues in an entirely different way. "In Our Time," the second of two collective improvisations is wildly exploratory, conversational and always compelling.  The title track closes the recording with a powerful, quintessential "free-bop" statement.

Mark Masters Biography

Mark Masters (b. 1957) has earned wide acclaim as an inventive and prolific composer and arranger. All About Jazz calls him "one of the great jazz arrangers of the late 20th and 21st centuries."  Born in 1957 in Gary, Indiana, Masters studied jazz at California State in LA. He organized his first ensemble in 1982 and has never looked back.

"A strikingly creative spirit," (Jim Santella, All About Jazz), Masters has led numerous recording sessions, almost all for Capri Records. Among them are Priestess (Capri, 1990) that Masters wrote to feature Billy Harper and Jimmy Knepper.  A subsequent recording with Knepper, The Jimmy Knepper Songbook (Focus, 1993), featured arrangements by Masters of Knepper's compositions.

Masters' most recent recording Blue Skylight (Capri, 2017), features his innovative ensemble writing and unique approach to the music of Gerry Mulligan and Charles Mingus.  Farewell Walter Dewey Redman (Capri, 2008) features Masters' "in and out" approach and re-casts Dewey Redman's music while retaining its substance.  The project features Oliver Lake, Tim Hagans, Dave Carpenter, and Peter Erskine. Other recordings include Wish Me Well (Capri, 2005) with Steve Kuhn, Gary Smulyan, Gary Foster, and Tim Hagans, Exploration (Capri, 2004) with Grachan Moncur III's octet arranged by Masters, One Day With Lee (Capri, 2004) featuring alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, and The Clifford Brown Project (Capri, 2003) featuring Jack Montrose, Gary Smulyan, Tim Hagans, Cecilia Coleman, and Joe La Barbera. In addition, in 2013 Capri released two recordings, Ellington Saxophone Encounters and Everything You Did: The Music of Walter Becker & Donald Fagen.

Masters' 2005 recording Porgy and BessŠRedefined! (Capri) is a more harmonically adventurous approach to Gershwin's classic folk opera than what has come before.  John Kelman, writing for All About Jazz said "ŠMasters' score is the real star here.  From the opening fanfare he introduces two contrasting elements that, to a large part, define the approach to the whole suite-vibrant swing and some surprisingly free passages.  He clearly proves that it's possible to take a piece that has been approached from a variety of angles and still find a new way in."

Since 1998, Masters has been president of The American Jazz Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to the enrichment and enhancement of the appreciation of jazz. Under Masters' direction, the AJI supports activities that educate and expose the public to jazz through live performance and an oral history project, as well as by supporting charitable endeavors that advance jazz music. One such endeavor is the AJI's Find Your Own Voice mentoring program that takes professional musicians to middle and upper school campuses to present clinics and master classes to student musicians. 

Masters served as a guest lecturer at Claremont McKenna College (1999 - 2006) where he was involved with the History of Jazz class, overseeing an oral history project, and writing for and producing a series of concerts that brought such notable artists to the college as Billy Harper, Billy Hart, Bennie Maupin, Rufus Reid, Sam Rivers, Andrew Cyrille, Mark Turner, Gary Foster, Lee Konitz, Jack Montrose, John La Porta, Tim Hagans, Gary Smulyan, Ray Drummond, Steve Kuhn, Peter Erskine, Joe La Barbera, Ted Brown, Grachan Moncur III, Henry Grimes, and Dewey Redman.

Masters has been named a Rising Star Arranger in DownBeat Magazine's Annual Critics Poll multiple times.