‘Culmination’, the title track for this 2010 internet release, is scored for his world-jazz group ‘Hybrid Project’, consisting of acoustic guitar, ney, alto sax, trumpet, cello, bass and drums. The composition, originally written for chamber orchestra and jazz rhythm section, won an award for jazz composition from the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C.
Notes from Francesco Martinelli: firstname.lastname@example.org
Istanbul is still a city of wonders. Behind the great metropolis with his fumes and traffic jams, its noble profile defaced by urbanistic crimes and its unique memories apparently under attack from all sides, there's still a spirit fueled by the traditions that met – and fought – there over the centuries.
There's unmistakably a buzz in today's Istanbul, a vibe generated by young generations eager to be open to the outside world, and often brought to reconsider their country's recent and ancient history. Artists are stimulated by the atmosphere, and among a group of musicians currently tapping the energy of the Bosphorous town is guitar player and composer Donovan Mixon. Tall and athletic, Donovan could be an ex-basketball player, and his serious face is ready to open in a sweet smile – his students say he's pretty good at frowning too, but I haven't experienced that. What I know is that of the American jazz musicians that I've met, and they are a fair number, Donovan is among the most receptive to European culture.
He lived in Italy for many years, we had in Istanbul pleasant conversations in Italian, and his attitude is not a “transatlantic” one anymore.
Don is thoroughly schooled in jazz and contemporary music, but in view of subsequent developments, his early connection with guitarist Dennis Sandole is especially intriguing. “Modern Music from Philadelphia” by the Sandole brothers, of Italian descent, was a landmark of the 50's “new music” and contained compositions like “The boys from Istanbul”! After extensive studies, Donovan played professionally on the road for several years, and his activity as a teacher reflects a practical approach to the needs of a working musician. He recorded with the likes of Lee Konitz, George Garzone and Eddie Henderson, and distilled his experiences into a personal style of relaxed elegance, where notes are carefully placed in a uncluttered, transparent texture.
With this Cd a distinctly Turkish element enters in his music, not in a heavy concoction of “typical” sounds: the rich tradition of colors and sounds in Turkish music yields some selected ingredients – the unique tone of ‘ney’ (a Turkish wooden flute), some special scales and rhythms – but the agenda is not dictated by anything external to Donovan's idea of music.
“Summer Of 78” slowly grows from acoustic guitar to a “chamber” sound before introducing the sound of Ercan Irmak's ney. Ercan is one of the most important and in demand players of this instrument, central to the mystical and classical tradition; he guested on this track because he especially liked the composition. His improvisation combines traditional technique with the modern feeling of the theme, and the breathy sound of the ney integrates smoothly with the ensemble in a sequence of variations and permutations. The trumpet countermelodies at the end theme played by Senova Ulker, a guest and respected soloist both in classical and jazz circles in Istanbul, seem to be improvised but they are in fact written parts.
On the wistful “The Dance Of Life”, Senova Ulker carries the theme with authority before entertaining an improvised dialogue with the guitar. Aptly entitled, this composition possesses a highly capricious quality perhaps due to the asymmetric construction of the main theme, harmonic rhythm and phrases. Performed with an exquisite 3/4 swing by the ensemble.
“Culmination” - awarded a jazz composition prize by the National Endowment for the Arts - is Donovan's take on the never-ending fascination of jazz players with the contrapunct of Baroque music, in a dramatic growing complexity of voicings, sharp tempo changes, fast, articulated lines and a question at the end, it's most aptly the centerpiece of the Cd.
"We Are Yo' Kids” - a special kind of nursery song, has a definite Latin feel: listen to the drums on this one. Ferit Odman, like Billy Higgins, is a smiling drummer, but he's listening too. This bright young man, whom I had the pleasure to have as a student in my classes, is putting under his belt an extraordinary amount of serious work, having fun while learning all the time from different sources. His light, airy swing carefully follows the indications of the composer without losing relaxation. “He lets loose in the duet with fellow percussionist Engin Gurkey, while Serhan Erkol provides rhythmic drive with his bari riffs.”
“Mist” is not an impressionistic piece, in fact it's the closest Donovan gets on this Cd to contemporary music with a dramatic exploration of dynamics and dissonance at once.
"Mercury" opens and prominently features Jeff McAuley, an American cello player with a taste for adventure in music and life. Jeff is a classical musician, but we don't hold this against him, since he's getting more and more intrigued by the idea of improvisation. Mixon's concept of music, with his emphasis on light but well-connected structures establishing a dialectic with improvisation is the perfect point of entry for Jeff's cello, with its careful intonation and melodic phrasing.
The atmospheric, suspended prelude of “Eddi & Daniela”features Ayça Ergin on ney: a girl, quite a startling sight on a predominantly male instrument, who studied with the most important masters before starting her own career. Her performance is largely responsible for the feel of this piece that eventually concludes with a trio with the guitar and cello.
“Quando Il Lupo Annusa i Fiori” - a humorous title, “When the wolf smells the flowers” in Italian – features in the intro Caner Kaptan on bass: another musician in his 20's who shows great promise. The rich tone of Ulker's trumpet can be fully appreciated in the development of the piece, at times almost alone in the acoustic space: Donovan then gets to play his electric guitar, and his proportioned, sometimes blues-tinged solo is a model of restrained intensity built through crisp, full-attacked tones, generating an equally inspired repartee by Senova.
Fading in already in full swing, “Rough Translation” is the most overtly Oriental theme, limited to a quick impression of Donovan and his band passing by in their quest, giving an appointment for some further stage of the travel – this listener only hopes the next installment will come soon.
1. Summer of ’78 * 7:04
2. The Dance of Life 4:01
3. Culmination 3:56
4. We Are Yo’ Kids 3:48
5. Mist 1:13
6. Mercury 3:52
7. Eddi & Daniela 4:44
8. Quando Il Lupo Annusa I Fiori 10:31
9. Rough Translation 1:56
All music composed and arranged by Donovan Mixon, © 2010 Dibim Music BMI.
Donovan Mixon Guitars
Serhan Erkol Alto & Baritone Saxophones
Ayca Ergin Ney
*Ercan Irmak Ney (Summer of ’78 only)
Senova Ulker Trumpet/Flugelhorn
Caner Kaptan Acoustic Bass
Ferit Odman Drums
Engin Gurkey Percussion
Recording produced by Donovan Mixon,
Recorded at Istanbul Bilgi University, Engineer Doruk Ozturk.
Mixed and Mastered at Modulab via Del Lavoro, Casalecchio sul Reno – Bologna, Italy Engineer: Marco Biscarini, email@example.com
Technical consultant: Mine Erkaya
Special Thanks to: Diana Anton
Compositions that were composed in America:
Summer of ’78
We Are Yo’ Kids
Compositions composed in Italy
Eddi & Daniela
Quando Il Lupo Annusa i Fiori
Compositions composed in Turkey
The Dance of Life