When the opportunity came to review Turkish composer and multi-instrumentalist Mehmet Ali Sanlikol & Whatsnext?, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. Lately I’ve been making a decided effort to listen to music outside of my lifelong listening habits and have been discovering some wonderful new sounds.
But an album consisting of two distinct ensembles – one, a 17-member big band jazz orchestra and the other, a more traditional jazz combo of 13 – that begins with a track named “The Turkish 2nd Line,” a composition blending the buoyancy and bounce of a traditional New Orleans 2nd Line and the languid fluidity of a melody more traditionally found in compositions favored by belly dancers, is more a leap into the sonic unknown for me than any album I’ve had the pleasure of listening to in quite a while. As a validation to my new efforts to expand my music experience, I could not have asked for more out of a release.
There’s taking a step outside of a comfort zone, and then there is leaping blindly in hopes of discovering land on the other side. I’m happy to report there was land and then some.
Mehmet Ali Sanlikol & Whatsnext?, originally from Turkey, seems to have taken advantage of both the music of his heritage and also his apparent curiosity and love of Duke Ellington, movie soundtracks, and classical music. This emerges on Resolution – his second full length album – with compositions that are as ambitious and far-reaching as this listener could have hoped for. Helping him to realize all of this are such talents as Dave Liebman, Anat Cohen, Tiger Okoshi, and Antonio Sanchez.
With a definite split in personality over the nine tracks that compose the album – something to be expected perhaps when we’re talking about a release that dances from big band jazz to Turkish folk melodies to something that’s almost but not quite reggae – Resolution is definitely one of the more interesting listens I’ve happened upon in months. In the swirl of the outright strut and swagger of the album opener “The Turkish 2nd Line” to the sassy but lovely contralto of Panamanian vocalist Nedelka Prescod in “Whirl Around” and (my personal favorite on the album) the Niyaz Suite, which are the next two tracks on the record.
If you are a fan of improvisational saxophone, I think you’ll also enjoy the suite, as it’s basically one lovely saxophone concerto. Come to think of it, if you’re a fan of music composed and played from a place of curiosity and deep conviction, I think this recording is something you will enjoy front to back. There may be a few moments here and there where the music may take you to a combination of melodies that you’re just not feeling, but after a few listens I discovered that it was more my own preconception that was limiting what my ears were ready to embrace.
Without a doubt, I’d highly encourage anyone interested in seeing the possibilities of what jazz and world music can bring to each other and to the listeners to pick up not only Resolution but anything Mehmet Ali Sanlikol & Whatsnext? releases in the future. I know I will. This record has earned him that curiosity and respect from me.