HAZAR REINCARNATED / JIM & JON ROSENBERG-STEINBACH: Made for Wesley. COREA: Spain.* D. SCHMITT: Bossa Dorado. BONFA: Black Orpheus. LAGRÈNE: Made in France. GERSHWIN-HEYWARD: Summertime. ROSENBERG: For Sophora. PARKER: Donna Lee. TRAD.: Le Vieux Tzigane / Hazar, *Al DiMeola, gtr; Piotr Torunski, bs-cl; Mike Roelofs, pno; Mehmet Akatay, perc / IAN Productions LC 84945 IAN 2020-004
Ulaş Hazar, a German guitarist who only uses his last name as his professional name, spent years playing the saz, a three-stringed long-necked lute, microtonal music and polyrhythms, inspired by Paco de Lucia. Blending Eastern and Western music, he recorded an album in 2011 on this instrument, Virtuoso, on the Acoustic Music label. On the advice of John McLaughlin, he then took up the acoustic guitar, which he felt liberated and reincarnated him. Small wonder: six strings are always better than three!
This, his debut album on guitar, is issued in a deluxe package that includes both a conventional CD and a Pure Audio Blu-Ray disc of the same material. I cannot tell a smidgen of difference in sonics between the two, but one thing is sure. Hazar sure can play! According to the publicity blurb accompanying this release, Hazar is classically trained (the liner notes tell us that he studied composition with Tibor Yusti von Arth, the only pupil of Sergei Rachmaninov) and, for years, wrote movie music for Paramount Pictures. He later studied the saz at the Maastricht Academy of Music. His years of playing world music has given him an edgier, more vital approach to the acoustic guitar, much the like playing of those Manouche gypsies who play jazz (Django Reinhardt, Stocholo Rosenberg, Biréli Lagrène, etc.). This is clearly evident on the opening track, Made for Wesley, wherein Hazar plays double-time runs, using harder downstrokes on his instrument than that used by most classical or jazz guitarists. On Chick Corea’s famous Spain, he is joined by American jazz guitarist Al DiMeola, one of my favorite such artists along with Charlie Byrd. I don’t know which guitarist is playing the rapid runs on this track, but whichever one it is, they are spectacular, not just in terms of technique but also in terms of musical content.
Interestingly, and I make this observation not to criticize Hazar, he is not nearly as innovative harmonically as Django was, particularly in his later years when playing the electric guitar but also in the early 1940s. Perhaps this is because, although he was a European, Reinhardt absorbed the innovations coming out of America through the numerous jazz recordings he heard in addition to playing with such American greats as Coleman Hawkins and members of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Despite his inability to read music, Django had a spectacular ear and could absorb all the new influences that were in the air during his time. Hazar, though immensely gifted and clearly a first-rate improviser, stays very much inside the European/classical tonal system. This takes nothing away from his sizzling technique or his ability to swing, but I would encourage him to simply sit down for about a month and listen to Django’s entire recorded output. I think it would open up his improvisations even more and make him not only aurally dazzling but musically more interesting. (I once criticized a young American guitarist—I forget who—30 years ago by making a similar observation. He called me on the phone and chewed me out for comparing him to an “old-timey” guitarist like Django. I asked him if he had ever heard Django’s electric guitar recordings. He told me that he didn’t know that Django had ever played electric guitar. Further conversation with him revealed that he also had a very limited exposure to Django through his more famous, mid-1930s Hot Club Quintet recordings and nothing else.)
Getting back to this album, however, one can surely derive great pleasure from Hazar’s playing. I especially liked the way he ripped through Lagrène’s peppy jazz waltz Made in France and his cute arrangement of Summertime with its irregular beats within a 6/8 tempo. Bass clarinetist Piotr Torunski, who plays on most of the tracks here, seems to be used primarily for color; he interjects a few notes here and there, mostly echoing phrases that Hazar has just played. It’s nice to hear once in a while, but I’m not sure that it really adds a lot to the proceedings. Pianist Mike Roelofs gets a nice solo on Summertime but mostly plays in the background. For Sephora, written by Stocholo Rosenberg, is a piece that overlays 4/4 on an 8/8 rhythm. It’s nice, but that’s about all. Hazar plays a lot of empty runs, flashy but not particularly meaningful.
Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee is recast in a sparkling arrangement, and here Hazar plays some harmonically interesting improvisations. Roelofs also gets a peek-in on piano. The album closes with a traditional piece, Le Vieux Tzigane or The Old Gypsy, and here Hazar is at his most expressive and least flashy, playing completely solo on the guitar and reveling in every bar of music. I was completely entranced by this performance.
A fine first outing on CD for Hazar playing the guitar. Well worth exploring!
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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