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“Fasıl” is the ECM debut album of guitarist Marc Sinan, imaginatively juxtaposing Western and Oriental musical ideas, “like rosaries and Tesbihs” (the prayer beads of Islam), in a project very much connected to his own biography. Son of a Turkish-Armenian mother and a German father, Sinan has grown up with a strong sense of both cultures. He came to idea of the “Fasıl” project in a period when he had been playing passacaglias by Biber, Couperin, Bach and Silvius Leopold Weiss, and wanted to “create a bridge to Islamic music. The impetus came from musical associations, the feeling that in historical performance practise we basically imitate the approach and expression of improvising musicians beyond cultural borders and time periods.”

Rather than combining or contrasting existing music of East and West, Sinan and his librettist Marc Schiffer chose to create something new, relaying in words and music the story of Aisha bint Abi Bakr (613-678), last wife of the Prophet Mohammed. “Fasıl” is a musical character study of an impressive woman, the story of “a transition from innocent beauty to prophet’s closest confidante, to political leader, military leader, and finally to ‘Mother of Believers’, as she was praised by the Sunnis.”

Marc Schiffer’s texts take as source materials fragments of the Quran and Hadith (Traditions of the life of the Prophet) and “ancient Persian poems which refer to the humanitarian core that connects Islam and Christianity with one another.”

Schiffer’s song lyrics were forwarded to German pianist/composer Julia Hülsmann, without any additional information regarding characters and story line; her brief was to respond emotionally/intuitively to the texts. Then, to broaden the project’s scope still further, Sinan travelled to Turkey. “I met a very open and helpful imam, Kamil Hodja, who agreed to improvise for me in the makam tradition, thus presenting many Quran suras whose texts interested me.” Sinan recorded Hidja’s improvisations, and transcriptions of them became the basis of new music heard here as “Sura 6/51” and “Sura 81 Taksimi”.

The ensemble assembled to play this music has at its core Julia Hülsmann’s widely-experienced trio with bassist Marc Muellbauer and Heinrich Köbberling. Hülsmann and Muellbauer have been working together since 1996, and Köbberling joined Julia’s trio in 2001; their own ECM album “End of a Summer” was highly acclaimed by both and press and public. The frontline of the “Fasıl” project features the strongly contrasting characters of singer Yelena Kuljić, violist Lena Thies and Sinan himself.

Yelena Kuljić delivers a compellingly idiosyncratic performance as Aisha. Character roles are amongst her specialities. Since 2003 the Serbian-born singer has been based in Berlin where she has featured in music-theatre productions at the Maxim Gorki Teater, the Schaubuhne and the Sophiensaele. Currently her co-starring role in David Marton’s new staging of “Lulu” (an adaptation freely based on Alban Berg’s and Frank Wedekind’s vesions) at the Schauspiel Hannover is drawing much attention, with major reviews in the German daily press. In January 2009, The Frankfurter Rundschau called her “the most thrilling jazz voice of the current scene.”

Violist Lena Thies has performed with the Orchester der Komischen Oper Berlin and other ensembles. She belongs – as does Sinan - to the growing number of ‘classical’ players intrigued by improvisation. Marc praises her “exuberant curiosity” in his liner notes.

Sinan, born in 1976, has been performing on international concert stages for more than 15 years. He studied with Eliot Fisk and Joaquin Clerch at the Salzburg Mozarteum and the New England Conservatory in Boston.

Alongside solo concerts and chamber music projects with partners including Eliot Fisk, Jörg Widmann, the Turkish percussionist Burhan Öcal and the Rodin Quartet, Marc Sinan has appeared as a soloist with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Georgian Chamber Orchestra and others. He has toured throughout Europe and, North and South America. Sinan has featured in numerous radio and television recordings for the Bavarian and Austrian public broadcasters and the Turkish TRT, and has recorded several CDs. The first of these “A Royal Christmas with Marc Sinan and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra” was released by Polydor in 1994.

In 1998 Jörg Widmann dedicated his composition “Ent-Schwebung für Gitarre und Elektronik” to him, and Sinan recorded it, alongside works by Robert Beaser and Toru Takemitsu.

***

Of the sessions for “Fasıl”, Sinan writes: “In March 2008, we went into the studio in Oslo with a stack of material to record the current CD with Manfred Eicher. Manfred gave “Fasıl” its free, elliptical, yet irrevocable form. If I am supposed to help outsiders understand the studio work, the following image comes to mind: There is a type of bird that pushes its young off high cliffs. While the newborns learn to fly during free fall, they use – watching with a close eye – thermals and circle motionlessly. I can only speak for myself: Flying feels really good.”

A CD release concert takes place in Berlin on February 28, at Radial System V. Further Fasıl performances in Spring 2009 include an appearance at the JazzArt Festival in Schwäbisch Hall on April 4.

CD booklet includes notes by Marc Sinan in German and English, Marc Schiffer’s full libretto for “Fasıl”, and liner photos by Johanna Diehl.

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