Interrobang Records

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VIDEO: "Değmen Benim Gamlı Yaslı Gönlüme (Don't Touch My Sorrowful, Mournful Heart)" featuring David "Fuze" Fiuczynski

VIDEO: "Thrill of the Chase" featuring Arto Tunçboyacıyan and Dave Weckl

VIDEO: "Rondo Afro Turca" featuring Joey Blake

VIDEO: "Uzun Ince Bir Yoldayim"

"Neotolian Song" by Neotolia: Front Cover

"Neotolian Song" by Neotolia: Back Cover

"Neotolian Song" by Neotolia: Back Cover

From Anatolia, From the Heart: Bridging East and West, Neotolia’s Originals Spring from Mediterranean Traditions, Turkish Folk Songs, and Jazz Forms

At the meeting point of Eastern Europe, Western Asia, and the Mediterranean - a region steeped in thousands of years of rich, complex human history - is a land where antiquity and the deep, artistic wells of innumerable cultures mix with the modern world. The earth here feels older than time itself: dripping with stories of spice, civilization, conquest, and our shared human journey; tinged with the golden light of the eastern sunrise. This is Anatolia.

This meeting of worlds is the inspiration for Neotolia - an international ensemble of diverse, highly skilled musicians led by composer & pianist Utar Artun and singer/songwriter Nazan Nihal, both from Turkey. Together, their vision is to bring rare and traditional aspects of Turkish music and aesthetics to new life by fusing it with contemporary jazz, world music, improvisation, and microtonal theory. The result is a quintessentially Turkish sound mixed with cutting-edge groove. It is a new (“neo-“) vision of Anatolia: with one ear towards home and the other listening far outward. Thus, Artun and Nihal have enlisted musicians and friends from the world over to add their voices to their complex - yet elegant - compositions. The artists on this album hail from Sweden, Finland, Italy, Lebanon, Turkey, China, Iraq, Palestine, the United States, and more. 

It is through this artistic synthesis that Neotolia aims to inspire listeners and composers across the world. On their latest album, Neotolian Song (Interrobang Records; release date: April 23, 2017), the Turkish-born duo imagine lost ancient languages (“Neotolian Song”), mourn those lost to terrorism (“Değişmek Cesaret İster/ Change Takes Courage”), and weave new emotion into striking folk songs. Turkish traditional instruments like the qanun, ney and oud, Western and Eastern strings (violin, cello, erhu) join a core quintet (Nihal voice, Artun on piano, Jussi Reijonen on guitars, Bruno Råberg on bass, and Giuseppe Paradiso on drum kit).

The project began one night several years ago, when Artun was visiting Turkey. He heard Nihal sing several traditional songs in Nihal’s arrangements and was stunned. “We have to record those songs,” Nihal recalls him saying. This connection blossomed into love and marriage, and Nihal moved to Boston, where Artun is a professor at Berklee College of Music. She found herself listening to more and more Turkish music to stave off homesickness, which sparked Artun’s interest in recording some of the songs she had arranged. An ongoing collaboration ensued, with the duo working on original compositions as well as arrangements of traditional repertoire.  “Utar can transform music in any direction imaginable,” says Nihal. “For example, I come with a musical idea, discuss it with him and then we find a groove or rhythm. After that point we improve that idea together. Utar adds the final touch. He scores the music. Then the band plays it, and it becomes real.”

“We tried to make a kaleidoscope of different colors,” notes Artun. “We use African and Indian elements, jazz and American grooves, Eastern European scales, Turkish makams, and more. We aim to break down any and all musical prejudices and hierarchies - whether they are based on nationality, class, ethnicity, or otherwise. We believe music should go beyond such limiting classifications and embrace more creative freedom”.

Some pieces called for a sleek duo, like “Manastır Türküsü” – a spirited song from Artun’s home region. Some suggested unexpected instrumentation like Chinese flute (dizi) performed by Yazhi Guo (who has been named a “National Treasure of China’’), or a Middle Eastern cello line on “Neotolian Song.”  

Other songs were enriched by master artists: Turkish-Armenian Grammy-winning avant-garde percussionist  Arto Tunçboyacıyan and world-renowned drummer Dave Weckl on “Thrill of the Chase;” longterm Bobby McFerrin Voicestra member Joey Blake on “Rondo Afro Turca;” and Guggenheim Fellow and microtonal guitarist David Fiuczynski on “Degmen Benim Yasli Gonlume.” Their contributions, as well as the quintet’s elegant, exploratory approach, are featured in three videos the ensembles has created to accompany the recording.

Though the music ranges far and wide in geography and genre, the group keeps its Turkish heart. Traditional songs, modes, and sounds inform all the tracks, though never in predictable ways.“We have three traditional songs on the album reflecting the heritage of Turkish folk music. From our perspective Turkish Folk Music is free and open-minded, based on songwriting,” explains Artun. “Maqams – Turkish melodic modes – are used, but the feeling and writing are the main components,” Nihal continues. “Like blues guitar players, folk song lyricists write about daily life. There aren’t the same strict rules.”

Neotolia have loosened these rules further, adding polyphony to the mix. To bring it all together, they sought out master qanun (Turkish zither) player Tahir Aydoğdu, who was able to navigate the adventuresome merger of Turkish traditional ideas and Western chordal harmonies. “‘Bir Varmış Bir Yokmuş Hayat [Once Upon a Life]’ for example has a lot of interesting microtones,” says Artun. “It’s hard to play and phrase. You need good musicians like Bassam Saba, who aren’t intimidated of expanding their usual way of playing.”

In writing lyrics, Nihal also draws from diverse sources such as traditional Turkish folk music, ancient Lydian poetry, modern popular styles, and even her own invented language of Neotolian. “When we’ve performed these songs in concert”, Nihal recalls, “people in the audience often were in tears - without understanding the words! We were shocked at the positive, profound response. It shows that meaning may not be as important as the message you’re sending from the heart”.

This heartfelt message of multicultural inclusion is the key ingredient of Neotolia’s intoxicating sonic blend. Regardless of style or subject, all of Artun and Nihal’s compositions invite the listener to open their ears - and mind - to a world that embraces the best of everyone, regardless of their background. Like the first rays of dawn over the horizon, Neotolia is only starting its quest to reinterpret and shine new light on Turkish music and culture internationally. Deep roots anchor Artun and Nihal as they grow, and all are invited on this musical journey with them. This is the true meaning of Neotolian Song: it is a song for everyone to enjoy and participate in. It is a song for our whole world! - Dave D'aranjo & Tristra Newyear Yeager

"Haunting and nearly other worldly at times, it draws from all parts of the region and stirs it into a heady mash up .... Clearly an ear opening listening experience, it moves linearly to it's own drummer never making the path too hard for outsiders to follow."
Midwest Record