Omar Faruk Tekbilek,
One Truth
(World Class/Hearts of Space, 1999)

This CD by well-known Turkish musician Omar Faruk Tekbilek has its roots in mystic Sufism, but the One Truth it proclaims is universal: that music transcends religious and cultural boundaries.

The sound is Middle Eastern, but with its own fresh stamp -- the music is at once traditional and original. The last thing I expected to hear the first time I played the CD was a dramatic flamenco guitar on the first track, "Red Skies," mingling with a wailing wordless vocal. Suddenly, the piece takes off in an explosion of percussion (including djembe, bongos and darbuka), with the flamenco guitar ably keeping pace with the soaring whirling sound of the ney, a Persian end-blown flute.

There is a quality like a wordless ballad to the second track, "I [heart symbol] You" which features the sweet tones of the ney backed with violin, oud (an Arabic lute) and kanun (a flat stringed instrument like a zither), as well as an assortment of percussion instruments. Many are not well known to Western listeners, such as the bendir, a single-sided Moroccan frame drum with snares, and the def, a Middle Eastern frame drum.

"Wildflowers," the third track, is a perky dance-like tune performed largely on baglama and jura, small versions of the bouzouki, punctuated by a duet between the melodic kaval, a wooden Turkish flute, and the zurna, a nasal primitive Middle Eastern oboe. The mood shifts with "Manhem," a moody haunting piece with Tekbilek providing mournful vocals. A violin singing in a minor key kicks off the next track, the traditional "Tabir Raks" and then the percussion, baglama and jura take over with a lively rhythm.

The zurna dominates in the wild-spirited traditional piece "Roman" before the shift to a reflective tone in the inspirational song of gratitude and title track "One Truth." "ARA'ya," a piece performed on ney and jura with interesting background effects on keyboards, continues in the quiet vein.

The pace picks up for the song "Sufi," but not too much; Tekbilek's vocals blend well with the ney in this long piece which expresses a personal religious philosophy that comes across with majesty even though the song is not sung in English.

The final track, "Istanbul," begins with an off-beat touch: a toy piano plunks out a delicate melody before being picked up with the plucked instruments and the ney, with a soft percussive beat underlying it. The melody shifts into a kind of call and response, then returns to the original tune. It's a good note on which to end the album -- it's upbeat but controlled.

I learned more than I could ever hope to know about Middle Eastern musical instruments after listening to this CD, and I believe I'm richer for it. Tekbilek is a remarkably talented and versatile musician, and some of the pieces stay with me after the CD is over. Most of the selections are immediately appealing, and I definitely prefer the livelier music, but overall, the musicianship is good. It won't meet every listener's tastes, but if you're interested in broadening your horizons, you can't go wrong with One Truth -- and that's the truth.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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