Esmerine: Dalmak (Constellation)

Pan cultural music making fusing Turkish rhythms with post-rock textures

Released Sep 2nd, 2013 via Constellation / By Norman Miller
Esmerine: Dalmak (Constellation) ‘Cross-cultural music-making’ ranges from strikingly innovative (think Damon Albarn's operatic Monkey business) to abysmal (think Paul Simon's Graceland) – but it usually involves the Western stars tinkering with sounds pretty removed from their usual groove.

That's less so of this latest from Esmerine. Having augmented core duo of percussionist Bruce Cawdron (Godspeed You! Black Emperor) and Thee Silver Mt Zion cellist Rebecca Foon with Jamie Thompson on drums/percussion and multi-instrumentalist Brian Sanderson for touring purposes, the band fetched up in Istanbul for a 2012 artist residence.

Hooking up with local Turkish musicians, the ensemble set about creating music that explored what happened when cello, banjo, bass and trumpet got jiggy-jiggy with bendir, darbuka, erbane and saz.

The result is a blend of Eastern and modern chamber sounds that is rarely less than intriguing, breathing new life into the melancholic ambience and mid-tempo pulsing Esmerine have trademarked in albums from 2001's Signs Reign Rebuilder (2001) to 2011's La Lechuza.

Dalmak is a Turkish word revolving around contemplation and immersion, and the rhythms and unfamiliar musical textures from the Turkish side dominate early tracks.

A sort of desert ambience hangs over ‘Lost River Blues I’ which slowly builds to a tempo more twirling dervish than whirling, while ‘Lost River Blues II’ ups the percussive drive with zithery skittishness. Familiar and novel instrumental textures blend neatly.

The superb ‘Hayale Dalmak’ marks both a shift and a high-point - a brittly beautiful keyboard motif deepening and darkening like a moodier Mogwai, ushering in a general shift over to Western modes dominating without losing the exotic leavening of Turkishness.

‘Translator's Clos I & II’ meld spiralling percussive strings with ambient drones, moving into a thrilling clash of musical ideas culminating in a slow motif like The Godfather theme turned eastward. ‘White Pines’ meanwhile is a gem of downbeat strings complemented by the dark sweetness of the closing ‘Yauri Yauri’.

At times the album veers towards autopilot Eastern grooving but more often it's a considered blending of Turkish polyrhythms and pulsing melancholia that would be fantastic to see live.