Mercan Dede – 800 (Doublemoon DM0042, 2008)
Mercan Dede’s 800 isn’t what was expected, that is to say what it’s not is the proposed fourth album in his elements tetralogy. He suspends this ongoing project to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the the birth of the Sufi teacher, poet and mystic, the Mevlana Rumi, the source of his central inspiration; the presentation of the album includes his letter to the Mevlana plus intensely personal sleeve notes and generous thanks to rival any Oscar acceptance speech.
This is quintessential Mercan Dede with no deviation from the consistent and mesmerizing quality of his defining sound and musical philosophy, continued proof that as a composer and producer he’s a skillful artist with an acute ear for perceptive and masterly positioning of the individual and collective strengths of his contributors. Again he unfailingly produces a heady, spiritual feast of musicians, singers and poets always underlined with his own driving input of electronica, percussion and ney. 800 has a atmospheric potency, an elegant and almost filmic quality in the sumptuous textures of its processional ambience. Combined with a welcome return to longer tracks, this is all to scalp tingling effect.
800 does, however, feel lighter and more playful in parts than previous albums with intriguing titles such as “Cotton Princess And Seven Midgets” vs “Ali Baba And The Forty Eskimos” and “Lullaby For A Sweet Chubby Mermaid,” but as always with Mercan Dede it’s not easy to isolate individual tracks from the whole concept, and as always he gives well deserved prominence to his contributors. To name a mere four, Ceza (last heard on Su in 2004), makes a reappearance, deliciously rapping on tracks 800, “Captive” and “Istanbul,” Shankar Das of Montreal-based Ragleela playing deft and racing tabla solo on “Mercanistan,” the glitter of Ben Grosman’s hurdy gurdy saz and Ismail Tunçbilek’s baglama on the “Sun Rises In The East” and the dark echoing voice of the poet Hayrullah Ersoz reading his own words on “Where Are You?.” And that said, if there is a failing, and really it’s a small one, it’s that of not publishing the lyrics and poetry in the sleeve notes.