Jazz: MIND the music

The Turkish jazz trio will perform in Jerusalem.

January 12, 2017 17:52
4 minute read.
The Turkish jazz trio

The Turkish jazz trio. (photo credit: PR)

There seems to be very little in the way of convention in the professional life of Bora Celiker.

Considering that the 39-year-old Turkish guitarist makes a significant part of his living playing sounds on the wilder and woollier side of the jazz tracks, that fits the envelopepushing bill snugly.

Celiker will perform in Jerusalem on Wednesday as part of the MIND trio, which includes compatriot drummer Cem Tan and German saxophonist Thomas Prestin.

The guitarist has followed a long and winding road to the current juncture of his musical evolution, starting from early childhood when he began taking guitar lessons alongside a pal.

“Sometimes we’d fool around and we’d play each other’s guitars,” recalls Celiker. “So I’d play a left-handed guitar, even though I was right-handed. But it was just a bit of fun.”

A genuine left-hander, rock icon Jimi Hendrix was a childhood idol, as was Elvis Presley.

“I still appreciate, mostly, his older recordings like the 1950s stuff and some of the country style ballads and gospel. It’s really fun for me to listen to that, and also a bit of nostalgia,” he says.

Although Celiker managed to connect with the sounds of the first acknowledged King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, there were many artists and bands that remained off limits to him. While his contemporaries in the US, Britain and the rest of Western Europe could get into the rock and pop sounds of the day just by turning on their radio or going to the record store, his musical hinterland in Istanbul was far more limited.

“Growing up in Turkey, we didn’t have access to a lot of stuff. There was no Internet in the ‘80s,” he says.

That necessitated getting up to all kinds of shenanigans to get a handle on the grooves that were all the rage in the West.

“There were only a few records that were being imported, and there was smuggling going on.

People would go abroad and bring a bunch of records back to the country. They’d make copies of them, and we’d buy cassettes that had been illegally made of these records,” he says.

That was the way to keep up with the mainstream commercial sounds of the time, but Celiker also got into material that was way off the radar, and the radio, even in the US and the UK.

“Some friends of mine went to even further extremes in terms of avant-garde bands, punk bands – bands I’d never heard of,” he says.

That certainly helped the youngster open his mind and ears to wider musical domains, and he maintains that eclectic ethos to this day.

He played in his first band at age 12 and got into playing rock and jazz after university. His unorthodox approach to the craft was party fueled by his inability to master musical notation, even as a kid studying classical guitar.

“I couldn’t learn scores, so I could only learn to play the music by following the way the teacher played it and trying to copy exactly what he did,” explains Celiker.

That parrot-fashion line stood him in good stead. When he did get his hands on recordings of the likes of Led Zeppelin and Hendrix, he’d learn all their licks by playing the tapes over and over until he got all the chords and fingering down pat.

“I think learning by ear is the natural way to learn to play music,” he observes.

Celiker eventually began playing professionally and performed all kinds of material, including rock and jazz. Over time, he came across similarly free-thinking artists, including members of the older generation who had been playing less structured music since the 1960s. The older gang included drummer Huseyin Ertunc, who was a kind of mentor to Celiker.

The guitarist’s real musical epiphany occurred about eight years ago when he visited the southwest Turkish resort of Gumusluk, where he encountered Ertunc and some of his pals.

“That was a turning point in my life,” says Celiker. “I met all these people who played music and painted and made sculptures as part of their daily life. I saw that you didn’t need a stage or anything. It seemed to me that whenever they felt like it, they just got together and played music. That was fun.”

Celiker learned the art of letting go, of going with the flow, and immersed himself in free improvisation and experimental music.

Over the years, Celiker made a name for himself on the Istanbul jazz scene. He put out an intriguing jazz record that features acclaimed American bass player Eric Revis, as well as keeping the wolves at bay by playing all styles of music – commercial and artistically challenging – both as leader and sideman.

Gumusluk is also the birthplace of the MIND trio. Celiker was back on the peninsula with time on his hands and came across Cem Tan.

They got chatting, soon realized they shared the same musical beliefs and promptly formed a duo, playing at the resort and, later, back in Istanbul. After a while, they felt it was time to record an album, and Prestin, an old sparring partner of Tan’s, was duly brought over from Germany to complete the lineup. The recording was completed a few weeks ago and, true to form, the album was made with solid technology of yesteryear.

“The recording was completely analog, using a two-track reel-to-reel tape,” Celiker says. “That was great.”

What will Celiker and the trio be playing in Jerusalem? A go-with-the- flow mindset from the audience seems to be the order of the day.

The MIND trio will perform on Wednesday at the Yellow Submarine in Jerusalem. Doors open at 9 p.m.

The show starts at 10 p.m.

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