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Faces and Places (2009)

Artist: Fahir Atakoglu

Label: Far & Here

Released July 28, 2009

Of all the albums I’ve heard this year, Fahir Atakoglu’s Faces and Places certainly ranks as one of the most exciting. Not only is it special for carrying several international styles into the mainstream jazz market (Atakoglu was born in Istanbul, Turkey, and uses artists from Cuba, Brazil and New York in his ensemble), but as a standalone work it is a powerful addition to the jazz fusion library. Rather than passively creating an album that fuses several cultural voices together, Faces is a very blunt, intentional attempt at multiculturalism — its title and piece choices take geography as inspiration. Despite the diverse nature of the compositions, the album seamlessly weaves styles and moods, lending a greater sense of continuity; this is a cross-continental road trip, not your neighbor’s vacation slide show.

Atakoglu teams up with a team of seasoned players — mostly products of the early 70’s jazz fusion revolution — to create a solid, encompassing sound. John Patitucci, from Wayne Shorter’s latest quartet, provides an agile yet comfortable groove on the bass. Bob Mintzer of the Yellowjackets keeps a mellow tone stays very much alive. Michael Brecker’s appearance on “Seven” is a return to the dirtier side of funk, played with rigid, angular, yet beautiful lines. Wayne Krantz provides both solo and comped guitar metal, as able to shred through Mahavishu style licks as he is to hanging back and matching with another player. He’s countered successfully by Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo (see “Luciana Souza” for more about him). All of this is laid over the constantly shifting, always thoughtful rhythm of Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, the group’s Cuban drum expert. Atakoglu’s harmonic oversight brings everything together — the one constant over all the other colors.

The album opens with “Into You,” a fresh-out-of-the-70’s syncopated groove, equipped with elaborate string melodies, synched guitar licks, overlapping lines, and a constant drive that permutes, escalates, and reiterates. Listen for a screaming sax solo and a gut-wrenching end-of-four ending.

Bob Minzter switches to soprano sax on “High Street,” which takes the funk from “Into You” and infuses it with Brazillian and Middle Eastern flavors. The piece plays like a walk through a foreign street market: It’s flashy, exotic, and very alive. The album mellows out with “Faces,” featuring Atakoglu’s playing in the fore, with vocals making their first appearance. A lover’s chant of sorts, “Faces” is more somber, and, perhaps, a bit more sacred. It’s followed by “Mediterranean,” which returns to the mood of “High Street” — fast, exotic, and vast.

The album slowly shifts to the Western Hemisphere, with “Rio Da Noite—Intro,” “Rio Da Noite,” and “NY Retrospective.” The first is played on a Native American flute-esque synthesizer, leading up to the lively jaunt to follow. “Retrospective” is closer to the standard jazz vein — urban “cool.” “Rhythm of Corners” and “...And Places” return to the ethereal. Things are a bit more free, and the feeling a bit more spaced out. Several other pieces follow, each with a unique voice. The album wraps up with the retrospective nocturne “Your Face” featuring Mintzer.

The sum total is a very broad and successful execution of one man’s vision. Here’s hoping for albums from Fahir Atakoglu, and for more artists crossing the Atlantic.