New Reviews: June 20, 2001

Lalezar Ensemble
Music of the Sultans, Sufis, & Seraglio 4 volume set
Traditional Crossroads

This four-volume set spans a vast time and cultural milieu during which Ottoman music took on a life and style of its own. The mesmerizing traditional performances of Lalezar upon lutes, zithers, flutes, tambourines and kettledrums, with vocals, are well documented in forty-page booklets accompanying and highlighting the features of each of the CDs. A must for the beginning collector, the set is sure to open a "new" aural landscape to the most well-versed of listeners, even as it has in Istanbul.

Volume I: "Sultan Composers"

Through its highly institutionalized support of musicians and their artistic endeavors the Ottoman court and a remarkable number of skilled Sultan composers set the stage for an impressive development of a characteristically Turkish musical tradition. A stylized modal, rhythmic, and improvisational music which requires much craft in accurate rendition, Ottoman music of the Sultans tends to focus on light verse as text, as opposed to more spiritual elucidations in other musical genres. With well-organized descriptive notes by Walter Feldman, this first of Lalezar's CDs in the impressive Traditional Crossroads set will inspire listeners with its historically correct, seamless performances.

Volume II: "Music of the Dancing Boys"

A fascinating history of the fusion of themes rests in the long-standing Ottoman tradition of the kocekce--the dancing boys. Sexual ambiguity through transvestism was common, as was miming to imitate the natural and constructed worlds. Erotic dance, the predecessor of belly dance, was combined with sacred dance (the ancestor of the whirling dervish tradition) in such a way as to portray major life elements such as lust, spiritual intoxication, and both village and court activities. The beautiful extant music hails from the 19th century, the last period of the dancing boys. Characteristic performances are executed flawlessly on the CD, the second in the Lalezar set of Ottoman music.

Volume III: "Minority Composers"

Herein are extraordinary examples of non-Muslims participating in Turkish music creation, those creators being primarily Jews, Greeks and Armenians. Little tension allowed these composers to maintain their own religions and other cultural institutions yet participate both in high court music and in nightclubs. From Lalezar's incredible resources hail fine examples from the 17th through the 20th centuries. With outstanding performances, not only does this CD represent a fine overview of Ottoman music, it also chronicles a gradual and subtle historical merger of culture.

Volume IV: "Ottoman Suite"

The final volume of the exquisite set of CDs of Ottoman music, Ottoman Suite is a compilation, or "fasil", of characteristic pieces in a single mode (makam) as they might well appear in a court performance. Sufi vocal works, Ottoman classics, and light art song from the 19th and 20th centuries are all copacetically present on this veritable new classic recording.

Reviews by Jenece C. Gerber.