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Imagine the great Hariprasad Chaurasia and L. Shankar duetizing over tasteful modern ambience and ethno grooves. Now move the scenery from India to Turkey, replace the bansuri with the ney and the violin with the clarinet. What you arrive at is Buluşma | Meeting, a wonderfully inspired, extraordinarily well executed juxtaposition of Başar Dikici on that most Sufi of instruments, the end-blown ney flute, and Bülent Altinbaş (or Kirpi the hedgehog as his nick goes) on the serpentine, quarter-tone intonated clarinet of Fasil music.
Because the ney lacks any keys as does its Japanese relative, the shakuhachi, virtuosity on this very difficult-to-play instrument isn't relative to breakneck chromatic runs through all the minor keys. Accordingly, the ney often is nearly synonymous with Zikr-style meditative tunes just as the shakuhachi is the archetype of Zen music. On Meeting, the clarinet's technical superiority adapts, shifts down and the tunes become nearly exclusively down-tempo. The album could thus be filed away as suitably ambient and chill-out in character. Yet the sophistication of the playing and the compositional/improvisational craft are on another plateau entirely.
We do suffer one remix -- in the hands of Mercan Dede, it would have been a cherry but this one's a dud -- and one track gets heavy-handed with its disco-fied bass. Importantly, the other eight numbers are top quality, with the 11:22 long "Karşılıklı Taksim" arguably the crown jewel. It's a Sufi-style stately meditation over drone and drums where the two soloists take turns improvising on the selected scale. The interplay is fabulous, the subtleties of harmonic detours astounding and you wish this shamanic brew would never run dry.
At times octave-doubled with themselves, always fluid as water, with elasticized pitches woven into trills and slides that create momentary but piquant adventures of advanced harmonic progressions, controlled vibratos that range from bare flickers to full-throttle power, fine dynamic gradations, crafty give and take between the two unlikely protagonists... Buluşma is a real discovery of modern Turkish music that points forward while gracefully bowing to the past. "Gönül sen ölmez misin" even treats us to a very left violin solo at the hands of Umut Hoşgör while "Mil-i Beka" gives as the kanun of Turgut Özüfler. For the closer "Ezan", Kirpi retires and an uncredited muezzin calls us to prayer in a resonant acoustic where shifting decays wash out distinctive directionality to point at something greater than just - here.
YouTube concert clips document how many Turkish top instrumentalists get often stuck with third-rate ensembles that do nothing to elevate their art. Yet albums must sell. If the buying masses want junk food, that's what many artists put out to pay rent. It's gratifying then to see efforts like Meeting | Buluşma that extricate instruments like the ney and clarinet from their usual obscurity, find a suitably modern context to set them in, allow their masters to shine and thereby build a powerful case for the continued relevance of ethnic and sacred music, made over just enough to be 21st century. That's a hard balance to achieve but one this album can proudly claim. In short, terrific stuff and a great discovery of contemporary Turkish instrumental music and a superb showcase for solo ney and clarinet coming together.