After “The Rain”, his Grammy-nominated album with the group Ghazal, comes “The Wind”, a documentation of Kayhan Kalhor’s first encounter with Erdal Erzincan. It presents gripping music, airborne music indeed, pervasive, penetrating, propelled into new spaces by the relentless, searching energies of its protagonists. Yet it is also music firmly anchored in the folk and classical traditions of Persia and Turkey.
Iranian kamancheh virtuoso Kalhor does not undertake his transcultural projects lightly. Ghazal, the Persian-Indian ‘synthesis’ group which he initiated with sitarist Shujaat Husain Khan followed some fifteen years of dialogue with North Indian musicians, in search of the right partner.
“Because I come from a musical background which is widely based on improvisation, I really like to explore this element with players from different yet related traditions, to see what we can discover together. I’m testing the water – putting one foot to the left, so to speak, in Turkey. And one foot to the right, in India. I’m between them. Geographically, physically, musically. And I’m trying to understand our differences. What is the difference between Shujaat and Erdal? Which is the bigger gap? And where will this lead?”
Kayhan began his association with Turkish baglama master Erdal Erzincan by making several research trips, in consecutive years, to Istanbul, collecting material, looking for pieces that he and Erdal might play together. He was accompanied on his journeys by musicologist/player Ulaş Özdemir who also served as translator and eventually took a supporting role in the Kalhor/Erzincan collaboration. On “The Wind”, Ulaş plays the divan baglama, or bass saz, providing a ground over which the two master musicians may fly.
In Turkey, Erdal Erzincan is often considered the most outstanding exponent of the Anatolian tradition. He has worked extensively with baglama legend Arif Sag and performed with him around the world. Several of his own recordings have been best-sellers in Turkey.
He is an exceptional baglama (saz) player working out of a tradition that can be traced back to the days of the travelling Sufi poets, whose playing once provided a context for spiritual meditations.
Kayhan Kalhor: “I appreciated at once that Erdal is a very good musician, a very serious baglama player – but he is still, normally, working within the demands of Turkish music today. This means songs and maybe a minute of playing in free time, and then another song. In Turkey, if you have a CD the market says you need 14 tracks and you have to have singing. I didn’t ask Erdal to sing. I explained to him, ‘I’m looking for something that departs from nothing and then goes into developing material and then goes into something else really improvised. Maybe we’ll go for a climax in terms of melody and energy and keep it there…And I’m looking at this for a form for maybe an hour of music.’ And he said, ‘I haven’t done that before, but I would like to do this.’ And he showed that he was indeed very much able to do this, and many of the things he played surprised and delighted me.
What I’m trying to do in these kind of projects – whether with Shujaat or, now, with Erdal is to learn the music and experience the world through their eyes. And I am not trying to change what they do so much as offer them another vision of it. Musical Turkey, for instance, is very much based on composed songs. Improvisation of the kind that Erdal and I undertake, developing material, is something that has been forgotten...”
Kayhan Kalhor recorded “The Wind” in Istanbul at the end of 2004 and mixed it, together with ECM producer Manfred Eicher at Oslo’s Rainbow Studio in 2006.