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The Song is a flawed collection of contemporary Turkish clarinet tunes that are nonetheless executed beautifully. This apparent contradiction reflects that the playing by Bülent Altinbaş is top drawer but his arrangement choices -- especially for the three first tracks -- are quite unfortunate and inappropriate. Using cyber Techno beats and bland synth loops, they seem to pander to shallow BuddhaBar precedents. This distracts from what the second half of the album begins to demonstrate more convincingly. Namely a very talented modern instrumentalist with a monster tone. He can play an extended maqam over an endless drone as mysteriously and trance-portingly as the best of Asian Alap improvisers. This is proven in the 8-minute closer "Hicaz" that recalls Thierry 'Titi' Robin's haunting Je Regard Nu solo oud and buzuq meditations on the presence of individual lady friends who sat for him on that album while he played contemplating them.
Where Hüsnü Senlendirici's previously reviewed album set a new milestone of excellence in this niche genre, The Song shows great promise partially obscured by club scene appeals. With this, Altinbaş shares his Greek colleague Vassili Saleas' weakness (the latter's newest album Live at The Athens Concert Hall on Alpha Records is once again a sorrily mixed bag - a great player who can't seem to find his groove). Yet Altinbaş is patently gifted and in constant demand as a session musician. His nickname Kirpi in fact means hedgehog. It's reportedly for how he makes the hairs of his audience stand on end.
Altinbaş deserves props for going solo, on an instrument that even in classical Western music is completely overshadowed by far more interesting and deeply varied repertoires for other instruments. Yet the clarinet remains a solid and important focus for Jazz, Kletzmer, Bulgarian wedding music, related Romani Gypsy styles and even makes appearances in contemporary Classical Indian music. When Kirpi goes more symphonic and overdubs himself in disparate registers, the results are tremendous. When he forgoes the uptempo numbers with their synth beat poison and focuses on lyricism, the album works. That makes The Song a worthwhile CD to own for the rare collectors in this genre - for half its tracks and as demonstrator for solid future potential by our hedgehog. He'll hopefully return to us next time with greater stylistic coherence and more sophisticated instrumental arrangements to surround his jubilant upper and virile lower registers and the many fancy ornamental trills and effortless swoops that bridge them.