BY JASON GROSS
The accompanying press release calls him the Clapton and Hendrix of Turkey but while this guitarist is also a mesmerizing player, the association isn’t helpful otherwise. Think of Koray as a legend who was a bridge between traditional music of his country and more modern Western electric music. Far from being the exotica that some Westerns like to chuckle at, Koray’s music has a richness to it that extends far beyond novelty and across cultural and musical borders.
Though his career stretches back to the ‘50s where he was imitating early rock and roll records, Koray really came into his own in the late ‘60s with his psychedelic phase, with his fusion of local music and Western music which was called ‘Anatolian rock. ‘ A few unique traits stand out about Koray’s music from this time. The psychedelic influence to it is heard with its cavernous, echoed vocals (usually delivered in a calm croon), stinging guitar solos and drone aesthetic, which to be fair originated from the Middle East before making its presence felt in Western music in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Koray’s guitar playing with its bent-notes may seem strange at first until you recognize its connections to surf music (think Dick Dale) and players like Richard Thompson who loves to add exotic touches to his solos and also melds traditional and rock music and as such, makes a better comparison than Jimi or Slowhand (but doesn’t look as sexy in promo copy).
Outside of his native land, much of Koray’s music that’s made it here to the States and the West has been heard on occasional Turkish music compilations (more on that later) but now we have this unique opportunity to hear it on its own with these two important releases.
The appropriately-titled Elektronik Turkiler (‘Electronic Ballads,’ from 1974) is his technically second album since his first record was a singles collection put out behind his back in ’73 thanks to his previous record label. ET features Koray leading a power trio with his drummer doubling up on bongos and Turkish percussion, Koray also handling keyboards and a hot-shot gadfly bassist along for the ride and also with a pair of producers and anyone who happened to wander in to offer backing vocals or tea for the assembled. Is it any wonder that the album itself allegedly took up more than 150 hours(!) to produce?
Mostly based on folk songs, the album explodes with the opener “Karlı Daglar” and then moves magnificently into the two-part “Sir” which starts out with a phone ringing, leading into belly-dancing soundtrack music before breaking into psych-guitar madness and then back into hip-shaking havens before ending again with another guitar freak-out. From there, there is gorgeous guitar work to luxuriate in along with tender, catchy chanting (“Hele Yar”), a stately, ghostly organ interlude with gliding guitars swooping overheard (“Korkulu Ruya”), a trippy Krautrock like guitar-fuzz feature (“Inat”) and a nine-minute proto-metal solemn recital featuring a screaming double-reed horn and plates crashing (“Turku“). But undoubtedly, the highlight here is the nearly eight-minute “Cemalım,” which is adopted from a mournful song that pays tribute to a murdered man from a respected family. Koray’s vocal here is gentle and stirring, recalling the best tropicalia music from the same time. The vocal stands in contrast to his extended blazing guitar solos, which offer a different kind of sympathy for the subject, much the same way that Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” does. In all, ET is a psych-rock gem almost on the order of Forever Changes or The Notorious Byrd Brothers.
Arap Saci (originally released in 1976) is a double LP/CD collection of singles and album tracks from around the same time. Because Turkiler was conceived as a set of related folk songs, it’s a more consistent release but this compilation definitely has its set of great pleasures to enjoy also. Try the alternately sweet/dreamy and acid-rockin’ “Mesafeler ” or the sinewy, eerie atmosphere of “Yagmur” that recalls vintage Arthur Lee/Love or the hilarious, sweaty cover of “Land of 1000 Dances” (which mixes in parts of Can’s Tago Mago) or the fast-paced, roaring instrumental breaks on “Istemem” or the stately Manzarek-like organ and Krieger-like guitar on “Seni Her Gordugumde” or the almost-wholly gorgeous traditional Turk sound of “Saskin” or the lively, swinging strings on “Fesuphanallah.” And all of that is just on the first record, which admittedly is stronger (and stranger) than the second album, except for the funky groove of “Estarabim,” the dizzying chant of “Komsu Kizi,” the galloping, percussion-heavy “Timbilli” and the pretty waltz of “Senden Ayri” (though the cover of the Moody Blues’ “Thursday Afternoon” is cute too). Arap also rates as a more focused and satisfying view of Koray’s work from the ‘70’s than Sublime Frequency’s collection from the same time, Mechel, which they released two years ago- nevertheless, that also stands as a decent supplement to Arap as there are no tracks that appear on both releases.
If you’re hooked into Koray’s enchanting world of music, there are a number of worthy related compilations of similar Anatolian rock music to sink your ears into, which also feature his music. Seek out these post-millennium titles and you’ll be glad that you did: Hava Narghile (Dionysus, 2001), Turkish Freakout (Bouzouki Joe, 2010), Love, Peace & Poetry Vol. 9 (Normal, 2005), Turkish Delights (Grey Past, 2001). They’ll liven up any hipster party that you’re at, guaranteed.
DOWNLOAD: “Cemalim,” “Karli Dagalar” (from Elektronik Turkiler), “Estarabim,” “Yagmur” (from Arap Saci) JASON GROSS