|Ilhan Ersahin - Our Song|
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reviews & comments
Turkish tenor man Ersahin, who has been leading Saturday brunch sessions at Sweet Basil for three-and-a-half years, debuts impressively on this album. He solos in a declarative, extrapolative manner, combining hard bop (Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter) and non-freak-out free jazz (Ornette Coleman, Dewey Redman). Trumpeter Eddie Henderson, pianist Jon Davis, bassist Doug Weiss, and drummer Kenny Wollesen perform solidly in his corner.
Owen Cordle, Jazz Times, May 1999
Sounding well beyond his years, the Stockholm-born, Turkish-raised tenor saxophonist presents a balanced mix of post-bop swingers with ballads and a few fun, funky numbers on Our Song. Also look for Home, a very fine trio date with Our Song bandmates drummer Kenny Wolleson and bassist Larry Grenadier. Both albums sport only Ersahin compositions, songs that have been honed through years of steady gigging in New York (including a regular stint at Sweet Basil).
In addition to Grenadier (who plays on just one of the 10 tracks here) and Wolleson, there's keyboardist Jon Davis, bassist Doug Weiss and drummer Jeff Williams (on "She"). Most importantly, there's the significant presence of veteran trumpeter Eddie Henderson, whose sound lends weight to the ensemble passages and depth with his solos.
Ersahin's production has an odd, monaural sound to it. His playing is reminiscent of at times John Coltrane, Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter, while trumpeter Henderson time and again conjures up the sound of Miles Davis (check out his trills on "The Chief", a tune dedicated to tenorist Clifford Jordan and at times recalling certain lines, if not attitude, from Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dace"). A bonus: Jon Davis' use of Fender Rhodes on the funky stuff as well as the recommended coda to the album-closer "Time Out", which harkens back to the days when Miles used to add his "Theme" to the end of a live set.
There isn't a dud in the dough. And as long as Ersahin - who also has serious inclinations toward hip-hop, reggae and all-around world musics - continues to surround himself with top-flight players, the songs he writes and performs are bound to stir more than just a little interest.
Down Beat, March 1999, by John Ephland
Ilhan Ersahin is a Turkish, New York-based saxophonist with a full and pliable tone; occasionally he recalls Joe Henderson. This is actually his debut as a leader, as it was recorded before his well-received Home. On this one he seems to test the possibilities of several different approaches. On "Uzun" he essays a hypnotic, slow-paced Turkish folk song with conviction, tending toward Coltrane in his tenor orientalism, as Grenadier sets up a Garrisonish foundation for him. Otherwise Ersahin tends toward more conventional gestures, seeming unwilling (but not unable) to cut loose on "Our Song;" except for a few brief flurries, he strolls through the piece with a certain detachment, and lets Eddie Henderson raise the sparks. On "She Said" and "Piece/Variations on a Thought," however, he and Henderson do slip in a bit of dervish (and spirited give-and-take). The trumpeter not only puts on a Harmon mute, but a full Miles suit, on "X" (and elsewhere). On "X," Ersahin follows his solo with a chromatic run much like Trane following Miles on "Blue in Green" or "Freddie Freeloader," but Ersahin is much more relaxed and less peripatetic than Coltrane. There are other echoes: on "She," which is indebted to Tadd Dameron's "On a Misty Night," Ersahin plays with fervent romanticism, while Jon Davis mimes Bill Evans gestures. The funky "Chief," dedicated to Clifford Jordan, could have come from one of those glorious Jordan/Lee Morgan collaborations. "Time Out," with its stoptime, harmonically daring head, sounds more like Morgan with Wayne Shorter.
But to identify influences isnot to peg Ersahin as a more copyist or imitator. He is clearly developing his own voice - out of strong elements of the "mainstream" tradition - and is a musician to be watched.
Cadence, The Review of Jazz & Blues: Creative Improvised Music, March 1999
Sometimes you have to travel a long way to meet your neighbors. I had to go to Istanbul to meet Ilhan Ersahin, who lives about a five-minute walk away from my apartment in New York's East Village.
In the fall of 1997, I had the privilege of traveling from New York to Turkey to cover Istanbul's Akbank Jazz Festival, a fairly adventurous gathering of jazz musicians from around the world. Every night after the main concerts, everybody would gather in a snug little nightclub for jam sessions, nightly encounters that frequently mixed the big name American stars with some hot-to-trot local players.
Leading the jam sessions was a splendidly big-toned, hard-swinging young saxophonist named Ilhan Ersahin. I, of course, knew the name. Ilhan Ersahin has had one of New York's steadiest gigs: three-and-a-half years of playing Saturday brunch at Sweet Basil, one of New York's premiere jazz rooms. Now if a Saturday brunch gig doesn't sound like much, consider that for all that time (and right up until this death) the Sunday brunch there was led by Doc Cheatham.
Ilhan brought the two New York aces who play with him at the club, bassist Doug Weiss and drummer Kenny Wollesen, and the three of them set a standard of late-night excellence that drew the stars to the bandstand like flies to a Mars bar. I mean, when James Carter, Craig Harris and Jerome Harris join your trio and then decide to play some Charlie Parker tunes at supersonic tempo, you either fly or you thud to the ground like a stone. Ilhan and company not only flew, but Ilhan had no trouble keeping pace with the take-no-prisoners James Carter. It was highlight of a festival studded with highlights.
"Our Song" is the debut recording of Ilhan Ersahin (it predates his other Golden Horn release, "Home") and, in a world of half-baked jazz album debuts, it presents a player, and composer, fully baked.
"I'm really aiming to try to find my own voice with my compositions and the people I choose to record with,"says Ilhan. "These days there's so much out that is the same or redundant. Musicians have to have some kind of life or background, you can't just grow up in some little town and go to Berklee and become a musician. You have to have something to say when you get out there, you have to tell a story, an interesting story."
"Our Song" tells 10 interesting stories. Most are in the language of hard-bop or a more Ornette Colemanish post-bop but none are throwbacks, everything is fresh and memorable, from the opening notes of the title track to the uptempo spin of the closing "Time Out." I love the big rich ballads, like "X" and "She," and I love the funky attitude of "She Said" and "The Chief," which fall into a soulful groove that would make Cannonball Adderley or Horace Silver proud (in fact "The Chief" is written for Clifford Jordan, another big-toned tenor saxophonist with a ton of soul).
Everybody plays beautifully here, particularly Eddie Henderson, a veteran player who seems to be getting better with each passing year. Ilhan met him when he used to sit in at Henderson's jam sessions at New York's Visiones, and the trumpeter liked what he heard: they've worked together in Europe and the Caribbean and it's a magical musical marriage. Weiss and Wollesen live up to their promise at those jam sessions, and Jon Davis provides extra-tasty keyboard work. This band sounds like...well, it sounds like a band. It also sounds like itself, which is saying a mouthful.
"I am definitely a jazz musician, but if you see my record collection, I listen to everything," says Ilhan Ersahin. 'I listen to the new things that come from England, I listen a lot to old soul and reggae, I listen to all kinds of music and I always have. All of my music represents more of a worldly side than just bebop. I have a total respect for bebop, but you have to find a way to put your own personality to it. You can't just redo what's been done."
Ilhan Ersahin came to New York after a short stint at the Berklee College of Music. John Scofield once told me that the best musicians don't graduate from Berklee, they stay there until they're ready to try New York. It took Ilhan three semesters. He thought he'd stay a year, but that was 10 years ago, and now, he says, New York is home.
"I feel like this is my home, more than Turkey," he says. "It's a struggle, but I feel these ten years have been going better and better all the time. Which is a positive feeling. And I feel like there are a lot of people who don't know me yet."
One who does know him is the master of improvised conducting, Butch Morris, who has been featuring Ilhan in many of his recent conductions. Another Akbank highlight was when Morris took the stand, with a Cuban cigar substituting for a baton, and organized a small conduction featuring Ilhan and his band and a couple of other Turkish horn players.
Calling this album "Our Song" is no accident: Ilhan Ersahin is determined, in a world of cookie-cutter young musicians, to play his own song, to tell his own story. He's got a lot of tricks up his sleeve, many more of which can be heard on the exceptional trio-only album "Home." He also leads a group called Wax Poetic, which quite successfully blends jazz with ambient sounds, electronica, hip-hop and other modern notions.
Ilhan Ersahin is going to be heard from quite a lot in the future, of this I am certain. Because along with his abilities as a player and composer is an awareness of what is he does and what it us he should be doing. "It's about creating an atmosphere when you play and making the room enjoy the whole evening," he says. "And that's what's missing in jazz these days, a lot of young guys just play a lot of the right things, but it's rarely that you go and hear a magical evening."
I couldn't agree more. And "Our Song" is filled with magical evenings.