Perfect Sound Forever

Sevda and Stockholm Tectonics

Maffy Falay, photo from Golden Horn

by W. C. Bamberger
(April 2008)

Musics and cultures meet, and always have. The hard human truth is that most times they repel as fiercely as matched-pole magnets. But other times, especially among the musical world's composers and players, they pique interest and, like passing celestial bodies, slightly alter each other's trajectory. Rarest of all are those times when musics that have previously developed with seas between them meet, and like tectonic plates, create upheavals that drastically alter the musical landscape. In 1970s Stockholm such a rare moment occurred, when Turkish folk musicians met Swedish players with American jazz sensibilities and created sounds that were both ear-opening and beautiful.

The primary catalyst for this meeting was trumpeter and pianist Maffy Falay. Falay had been "discovered" by the beret-sporting master of be-bop Dizzy Gillespie during a Turkish tour in 1956. Inspired by Gillespie, Falay slowly began moving west, playing with a number of big bands in Europe and a radio orchestra in Germany. Then, in 1960, he followed some Swedish players to Stockholm, where he again played with orchestras, including some on cruise ships that took him to America. In 1965 Falay joined the Swedish Radio Big Band and made his home in Stockholm. There he met saxophonist Bernt Rosengren, and through him he also met trumpeter Don Cherry.

In July of 1965, after a "Jazz Under the Stars" concert in Stockholm, Falay played a tape of a Turkish clarinet player for Don Cherry, his wife Moki, and American bop drummer "Tootie" Heath. Cherry was fascinated, and soon he and Falay were meeting to practice Turkish melodies together. In 1968, a Turkish dance band showed up, with Okay Temiz, a classically trained percussionist with a strong interest in jazz. By 1969, Temiz had quit the dance band and was working with Cherry. In November of the same year, Cherry traveled with Moki and Temiz to Turkey, where he recorded Live Ankara with Temiz and two other Turkish musicians. The album includes four Turkish melodies with arranging credit goven to Falay.1

Falay had continued playing with various jazz groups all over Europe, including a 1970 tour to Turkey, his first trip home in thirteen years. Also in 1970, he organized some concerts in Stockholm that included saxophonists Rosengren, Tommy Koverhult and Gunnar Bergsten. Temiz also sat in for an evening. From late 1970 into 1971, Falay played in the pit orchestra for a production of the period musical Cabaret. When this job ended, in March of 1971, Falay, Rosengren, bassist Ove Gustavsson and Temiz, hoping to connect with some quick Swedish festival work, formed the first incarnation of Sevda. (The band's name translates from the Turkish as "Love"). But this casual, almost mercenary move had an unexpected effect: within a year, Sevda had won a Swedish jazz fan popularity poll.

Falay quickly recognized that the tectonics he had helped set into motion had made the landscape ripe for this music, previously almost unknown in Sweden. Falay also remembered Salih Baysal, a violinist with a large repertoire of Turkish folk melodies he had met in Bodrum the year before, and brought him to Stockholm. These musicians formed the core of the recording band. The moment of Sevda, its unique meeting of jazz sensibility, Turkish melodies and exotic rhythms, lasted a very short time, but produced a handful of powerful and influential recordings.

The Myth, released under Salih Baysil's name,2 was in part recorded live in a restaurant, in part live in a club, but the sound quality is fairly good. The album begins with a long solo by Baysil. This piece, "Maya (Bodrum Civari)," has D as its pedal point. (In fact, anyone wanting to play along with Baysil could linger on a D minor scale and enter easily into the music.) This recording was made at a Sevda gig 13 days before their Live at Fregatten album was recorded, but Baysil is much more playful here than on the later recording, taking longer flights away from the central drone, not so much playing glissandos as garroting his notes high up the neck of the violin with some of the same ripping power as Clapton's guitar part on Cream's live version of "Rollin' and Tumblin'." The first side is filled out with studio recordings originally done for a compilation album titled Notes from the Underground. On these five short pieces, Baysil is accompanied by Falay on darbuka (the narrow-waisted Turkish hand drum) and Temiz on finger cymbals. At times Baysil also sings in unison with his violin. The raspy, rosin-rich tone (reminding us that Baysil's first violin was a hand-made one strung with hair from a horse's tail) and the husk in his voice make for a great combination of earth-tones.

Side 2 of The Myth includes the earliest recordings in this review, live duets with Baysil and Temiz on drums. This 23-some minute, ten-title medley was recorded at an early Sevda performance the first of March, 1972. Baysil also makes extensive use of glissandi here and Temiz is noticeably fired up and aggressive, seeming to play every one of drums and cymbals simultaneously, keeping the beat while also creating little sidebars of cross rhythm, changing the tempo, and challenging Baysil for the role of lead instrument. Temiz here, as on all these recordings, is playing the one-of-a-kind drum set he had specially made: the toms are over-sized darbukas of pounded and polished metal that give his playing a unique metallic resonance that cuts through other timbres. But Baysil stays ahead, coaxing from the strings swerving sounds that are almost a voice, almost laughter. For their combination of sheer ferocity and relative clarity of sound, these duets stand above any of the full band recordings.

Two weeks after the performance where these duets were recorded, Sevda played a concert for Swedish radio in Stockholm. This was their prize for having won the fan's poll. The recording was done in a television studio and the sound on the album, Jazz i Sverige--1972, is nearly perfect3. The album's track listing also includes the time signature of all but Baysil's freely played introductory solo. When we find our limbs moving in ways our counting sense can't follow, it's some consolation to look down and read "9/4." The line-up is Falay on trumpet and piano; Rosengren on tenor and flute; Gunnar Bergsten on baritone sax and Chinese flute; Björn Alke on bass; Temiz on drums, and Akay Temiz (Okay's son?) on darbuka.

Baysil's solo here, "Taksim," is very short, just two and a half minutes, and noticeably subdued. When the darbuka enters for "Hicaz Dolap," Baysil perks up, moves into a higher register, and the energy level rises. Unusually, there are gaps in his playing. He sounds as if he were watching for cues from someone, and the music slows to a stop. Baysil is not heard from again for the remainder of this side and half of the second. Falay's piano next introduces the lovely "Tamzara." Its 9/4 melody snakes along beautifully for its near twelve-minute length, but most of the time the band simply enters and drops out in various combinations, playing the melody over and over without improvisation, and only a few decorative trills. Temiz's eternally shifting rhythms offer the only sounds of surprise. Only after comping along for nearly half its length, does the music finally open up into improv, with Bergsten adding his baritone comments to Rosengren's tenor thoughts. But the players seem more concerned with staying out of one another's way than with creating something interesting. When Falay switches to trumpet, he raises the level, but only incrementally. The improvised section is rather short, and then its back to a few more minutes of unison playing, and a flute solo relaxed as to induce narcolepsy. The track sputters to an end. This piece is truly beautiful, but more processional music than jazz. The following tune, "Batum" (in 7/8), restores our faith in the band's power, its short, ostinato-like riff inspiring the soloists to pour in a little more energy.

"Karadeniz," coming up in a reverse fade, is more percussive and layered, with punching riffs at the turns, and the band sounding as if they have finally gotten over their sterility-of-a-studio jitters. A fluttering flute solo comes off better here than in "Tamzara," and Falay offers a nod to his friend Cherry's neighing microtone style. Second on side 2 is "Makadonya," which starts off unfortunately, with Falay on piano sounding like a sudsy Rachmaninov. But the band pushes the blocky piano aside, substituting leaping riffs, and a fierce, snarling Rosengren tenor solo that fires everyone up. Bergsten falters some during his solo, but Temiz here sounds more like himself than on any of the earlier pieces. "Çifte Telli" is built up from a simple, irresistible mid-tempo riff--reminding us of Sevda's folk roots--and Baysil finally reappears. His return is like the color finally returning to a pale face. Warmth and light return to the music, the rhythms pop, the horns imitate his rosin-rich tone. His long wailing long tones lift band and listener alike. I imagine tears coming to Temiz's eyes. The album ends with "Karsilama," in a fast 9/8. Temiz, Falay and Baysil all push one another here, creating a pounding and singing finale with everyone finally playing all-out.

Sevda at Fregatten, the record of a live performance more than a year later, in August of 1973, 4 captures and extends the fierce energy of the best of the Jazz I Sverige '72 performances. The concert was staged as part of a jazz festival organized in protest when that summer's official festival in Stockholm booked foreign and out-of-town bands exclusively. Fregatten was a warehouse-sized restaurant on a gritty waterfront (a liner photo shows a large cargo crane on steel legs standing just yards from its doors). The stunning "Maya (Bodrum Civari)" from The Myth had been recorded only 13 days earlier, and this concert performance began as did most of Sevda's concerts, with a Baysil solo. The piece here, "Taksim," also uses the open D string as a drone and pedal point, but above this monotonic plinth Baysil plays melodies and variations stacked on one another as high and filigreed as a carpenter's gothic roofline. Baysil plays without pause while the rest of Sevda slowly rises up around him (as usual, the pieces--four on Side 1, eight on Side 2--flow into one another). The piano plays repetitive chords to parallel the violin's open string drone, and Temiz throws in whiplash accents with his cluster of percussion instruments. As the band gathers itself to shape the fierce tipsy rhythms of "Kaynasama," Baysil concentrates on double stops over Björn Alke's bowed double bass. Falay stays at the piano through the entire side, with Baysil being the lead improviser. Beneath it all, Temiz is constantly shifting his mix of jazz phrasing and Turkish rhythms.

Falay moves to trumpet for the nineteen minutes of Side 2. He and Baysil share melody and improvisation responsibilities with Bernt Rosengren's taragot (a wooden soprano sax from Bulgaria, used there primarily to play wedding music), and Koverhult's saxophones. Temiz is even more forceful here, especially when filling the several short solo spaces he's given in the second tune, "Veresiye Vere Vere." Koverhult sounds as if he is trying to evolve Coltrane's entry on "My Favorite Things" as he comes in, but his playing leaves little impression. His primary contribution is adding color to unison lines.

The four pieces that end the side all flow into and through one another, like live wires braiding themselves to create a steel cable. Melodies and rhythms are like wagons at a goldrush--a fast clatter, fired with exhilaration and competition, every participant hell-bent on reaching a common goal, stretching out, pounding at full speed...

And that was that.

These recordings, covering a stretch of only eighteen months and two weeks, were the moment of Sevda. And in looking over the albums, it seems that without the dogged enthusiasm of producer Keith Knox and his "Universal Folk Sounds" series on Sonet, it may well have been a moment lost.5 Sevda ended, in part, because life goes on. Salih Baysil used his Sevda money to fix up his house in Bodrum and turn it into a four-room pension. Maffy Falay now records straight-ahead jazz albums with tunes by the likes of Hank Mobley and George Gershwin, at times in the company of Bernt Rosengren. Don Cherry--not of Sevda, but part of the inspiration for its birth--died in 1995, but on two of his last albums he recorded moments directly inspired by his involvement with Falay and Temiz in Sweden, including "Mafay" on Art Deco (1989).

Only Okay Temiz has kept the faith with the Turkish folk/Jazz hybrid he helped create. A few years after Sevda dissolved, he formed Oriental Wind. 6 The other members of the group for the 1977 album Oriental Wind were Lennert Åberg on saxes and flute; Bobo Stenson on piano; Palle Danielsson on bass; and Haci Tekbilek on flute, bagpipes, and saz (a Turkish string instrument), with Temiz on drums and percussion. The first three of these were members of Rena Rama, another Swedish group that joined folk musics and jazz (in fact, Rena Rama won the Jazz i Sverige prize the year after Sevda 7). Rena Rama had gathered tunes from Africa--"Royal Song from Dahomey," for example--and from eastern Europe, and Oriental Wind's first album featured the Turkish melody "Tamara-Delihorn" (in 10/8, 6/8, and 8/8); the Bulgarian tune "Les Noto" (7/8) and three other Turkish folk melodies. The music of Oriental Wind was more supple and textured than Sevda, and while it had no soloist to equal Baysil, Åberg on soprano was nearly as fierce. On the second album, with a different bass player and another saxophonist in place of the bagpiper, the repertoire includes a dance melody from Chad, one from Mali and four more from Turkey. As is the case with the Sevda albums, these were LP's (issued in the late Vinyl Age) are not available on CD or in any other format.

Temiz has since gone on to record many albums based on his Turkish musical roots, but the sound is longer the same. He includes a jazz element in that improvisation plays a part, but the low throb of a jazz rhythm section has been left behind in favor of a lighter, more traditional darbuka-based rhythm. At times, the sound is almost a dead-ringer for klezmer. Temiz's detailed and fascinating website lists a number of his albums.

Temiz's may be the most sustained echo of the moment of Sevda, but it is not the only one. While some of the 1970's players may have turned their attention elsewhere, and others have died, the deepest, most enduring elements that came together to make the music possible- the off-filter joy of the rhythms, the high fire of the intricate melodies, and most steadily the exogamic urge that drives musicians and listeners toward some musical "other"--are still with us. Perhaps these elements, moving as they do as imperceptibly but surely as tectonic plates, will once again come together in another landscape. Until then, friend, find the vinyl.

1 This has been issued in various forms over the years. The most desirable is the double CD set The Sonet Recordings (Verve 533 049-2). This joins the Ankara album with Cherry's Eternal Now. Bernt Rosengren also plays on this second album, recorded in 1973 in Stockholm.

2 Sonet SNTF 739, issued in 1978.

3 Caprice RIKS LP 31, issued in 1972.

4 Sonet SNTF 665, issued in 1974.

5 Knox was a driving force behind much of the most interesting recordings made in Europe during the 1970's, and counted among his friends musicians ranging from Don Cherry to Terry Riley. I believe he is still active, but have been unable to contact him. If anyone can help with this, contact me.

6 The albums considered here are Oriental Wind (Sonet SNTF 737, ossued in 1977), and Chila-Chila (Sonet SNTF 809, issued in 1979).

7 This resulted in their first album Jazz I Sverige-1973 (Caprice RIKS LP 49, issued in 1973). Their other album of which I am aware is Landscapes (JAPO Records 60 020, issued in 1977).

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