Sunday, September 23, 2007


In which the restlessly inventive musician and producer brings a Mediterranean feel to his boundary-pushing approach to music-making.
The career of the Turkey-based Franco-Tunisian oud player and modern beats-and-jazz experimentalist has swung between free jazz, programmed beats, Arabic roots music and many interesting points in between (including a small but vital role on Mauritanian griotte Malouma’s excellent new album Nour). With his latest album, the musical pendulum has settled in a place where many those elements are brought together in a variety of interesting combinations. The ensemble SOS is named after Smadj (on oud) and his collaborators, Greek-Turkish bouzouki virtuoso Orhan Osman and Turkish clarinet player Savas Zurnaci. With tunes full of reflective melodies teased from the two acoustic instruments and embellished with the gypsified, weaving flourishes of Zurnaci’s clarinet-playing, there’s a distinctly Mediterranean edge to the music, with added electric instruments, keyboards, violin and vocals providing a modern, contemporary edge to the recordings. Highlights include Asma (Grapevine), an expertly crafted, busy dance number featuring Serkan Calbay’s etheral vocals (all other tracks are instrumentals); the rootsier Bardeezum in which the three members take turns carving out exquisite solos; and the shifting beat of the Arabic Asya which benefits from the vibrant rhythmic underpinning of percussionist Bulent Calar. Some of the modern instrumentation on the album doesn’t work quite so well — the funky Rumba in particular is intruded upon by inelegant electric guitar work and programmed drum-beats that drown out some fine work by Zurnaci — but overall SOS sends out a signal of some fascinating progress from Smadj’s constantly shifting soundscapes.

This review first appeared on

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