This experiment in Eastern modes-meet-and-embrace-Western jazz traditions is, in a word, charming. Listeners with even the slightest thirst for adventure will be quickly seduced by the swelling rhythms and high-spirited melodies created by Cyprus native George Lernis for a program of improvisation-grounded performances blended with traditional Middle Eastern and Mediterranean music influences.
Lernis, a drummer, percussionist and master of the santur
, a hammered dulcimer that originated in ancient Babylon, is well versed in jazz vernaculars. From his outpost in the Mediterranean, he has also been able to absorb and incorporate into his compositions and arrangements a wide range of regional styles. He assumes a kind of gatekeeper role here, leaving a generous amount of space for his cohorts to demonstrate their individual and collective skills.
Turkish vocalist Burcu Güleç is a standout, at times emulating the kind of wild, primeval abandon on wordless vocal forays that was pioneered by fusion singers Urszula Dudziak and Flora Purim in the 1970s. Chicago trumpeter Emiel De Jaegher is masterful as an accompanist and a soloist. And Turkish pianist, vocalist and oud
player (a lute-like string instrument common throughout the Middle East) Mehmet Ali Sanlikol is the ensemble’s most versatile member — a stunningly talented virtuoso. A truly surprising guest in this exotic milieu, bassist John Patitucci, rounds out the roster of Lernis’ eclectic group.
The three-movement suite “Between Two Worlds” serves as the session’s centerpiece. Its first movement, “Origins,” finds the leader in a purely folkloric expression, alone with the steely tones of his santur
. “Zikir,” the second movement, edges closer to the modern world via Patitucci’s hypnotic electric bass ostinato, a spray of pithy trumpet notes, a rustle of gentle percussion, and Sanlikol’s tense oud
attacks and volatile vocalizing. “The Arrival,” the suite’s closing movement, is in full-blown jazz form, reminding us that these talented musicians, while still proud representatives of their native cultures, are no longer in transit but have become bona fide members of both worlds. — Mark Holston