Wednesday, April 28, 2010

ROW: Şükrü Tunar (Halan)

The undisputed clarinet king of 20th century Turkish music, Şükrü Tunar came from incongruously modest beginnings. His first instrument as a child was the kaval (tin flute), though he switched to G-clarinet after pestering his parents to buy him one at the age of seven. At fourteen, Tunar’s father and uncles joined the army and he took up arduous work in the stove business, playing music in local ensembles on the side as time permitted. An auspicious audition for Istanbul Radio in 1928 led to a meteoric rise in his notoriety and the rest is history. I first got hip to his music through the 3-volume Masters of Turkish Music released on Rounder. The selections available there overlap somewhat with this collection, but fidelity is a bit cleaner here. Solo taksims (improvisations) alternate with more structured ensemble pieces of varying vintages (mainly the 1930s and 40s). It’s on the former pieces that Tunar’s genius truly abounds. He glides and soars through the Ottoman-grounded scales, voicing intricate microtones as easily as he might his native Turkish. The band pieces aren’t far behind and offer an encapsulation of the popular repertoire of his nightclub gigs with boisterous accompaniment by oud, violin, kanun and dumbek accentuating the rhythmic malleability in his technique. In a tragedy echoing that of Warne Marsh decades later, an aging Tunar was felled by an on-stage heart attack mid-taksim in 1962. These sterling sides live on and continue to serve as source of intense study for students of Turkish music the world over.

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