Breath (Doublemoon DM033, 2006)
During his first tour of the UK last summer, Mercan Dede disclosed (fRoots 266/267) that he was already working on the third opus in his proposed tetralogy of albums based on the ancient concept of the four elements, which began with Nar (Fire) 2002, followed by Su (Water) 2004.
The sequence continues with Breath (released in Turkey as Nefes) and at time of writing already no.1 in the European World Music charts. Sometimes anticipation can outweigh the resulting reality, not in this case; there is an unexpected vulnerability of mood and pace which gives Breath a darker, more introspective quality than the two earlier albums. However, devotees will recognize, in the processional themes of Breath, unmistakable echoes of motifs from the previous productions, but be reassured, Breath is different, he has moved the concept and the sound on and it is a sound superbly and precisely crafted as only Mercan Dede can.
There’s a deep, haunting, ethereal sadness to the arrangements of his signature panoply of voices, instrumentation and mixing; this isn’t to say Breath is depressing, far from it, it’s a curiously comforting, reflective sadness to wrap yourself in.
It seems almost sacrilege to single out specific tracks ~ just as you think you’ve heard the best another one comes along. Each track has it’s own special frisson; Huo with its sudden crashing militaristic percussion, the impassioned tonal chanting of the Mevlevi poem Bülbül Kasidesi in Zefir~ an archive recording of the late Kani Karaca from the Mercan Dede Ensemble Akli Selim’in Muzigi concert, Istanbul 2000, Hugh Marsh’s swooping violin punctuating the lighter Huxi, and just as you thought Breath had ended with Mercan’s heartbeat on Moya Alitu, wait…….enjoy the contemplative silence before it’s broken by a gentle childlike duet of clarinet and chalumeau.
The only disappointment is that the tracks are shorter than we would expect from Mercan and although at first glance he seems to have abandoned his practice of thematic titling, the titles all translate as breath in different languages. The obvious is irresistible ~ Breath will blow you away…………