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MP3 Fahir Atakoglu - Istanbul In Blue

Top notch jazz fusion with contemporary Middle Eastern elements, joined by top musicians in the genre.

10 MP3 Songs
JAZZ: Jazz Fusion, WORLD: Middle East Contemporary

A major composer, arranger and pianist who is famous
in his native Turkey and becoming increasingly
well-known in the United States, Fahir Atakoglu is a
true original. “I’m a melody man,” he says in modestly
describing his music. “If the melody is good, then I
decide who would be best to play it and bring out its

Born in Istanbul, Atakoglu started having private
lessons on piano when he was seven and began
writing music in fifth grade. He studied classical
music, theory and harmony while keeping his mind open
to jazz and other styles. After attending college in
London where he played some jobs as a musician,
Atakoglu returned to Turkey in 1985, at first
performing with a group of Turkish singers. The
following year he began prolifically writing the music
for many television commercials. In 1989 Atakoglu
composed the music for a documentary about the recent
history of Turkey, eventually writing for four
historic documentaries. When he released the music
from those soundtracks on his first album in 1994, it
made him famous in Turkey. Although he relocated to
the United States during 1989-90, he visits Turkey
often and his national fame has grown through the
years as he explores a diverse span of music. Some of
his compositions have been given lyrics and have
become quite popular in Turkey and Greece.

In recent times, Fahir Atakoglu has recorded If (a
trio set with bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer
Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez) and the ballet East Side
Story. Both of those projects are relevant in the
making of Istanbul In Blue with Jackson and Hernandez
joining Atakoglu in the quintet, and a few of the
themes from East Side Story being utilized in the more
jazz-oriented setting.

Istanbul In Blue is a wide-ranging set that at first
seems like jazz/rock fusion, but also includes the
influences of Turkish music, some acoustic interludes,
and sections that are completely unclassifiable.
Atakoglu gathered together an all-star cast for the
CD. “In sidemen I look for musicianship, color,
original styles and for whatever the musicians can
bring to my melodies. I write the melody and sort of
have an arrangement in mind but, when we rehearse, I
listen closely to their input and how they interpret
the themes. El Negro gives a new life to the odd time
signatures that I use such as 7/8 and 10/8; his
polyrhythms fit right in. Anthony Jackson is a genius
of harmony. Both Mike Stern and Wayne Krantz are
brilliant guitarists and it was a pleasure having
saxophonist Bob Franceschini on the set. Much of the
evolving and development that occurs within the
individual pieces was created by the musicians on the
spur of the moment. I leave the musicians free to
interpret my music as much as possible.”

The program begins with “Fuse On,” a catchy and
concise opener that is reminiscent of fusion in its
prime and does a perfect job of introducing the band.
All of the musicians make strong contributions with
Bob Franceschini taking a raging tenor solo that is
full of fire. “Sync-Op” has an opening melody that
hints at Turkish music, 1970s fusion and Chick Corea’s
Return To Forever. Atakoglu takes an impressive
acoustic piano solo over the active rhythm section,
Mike Stern’s guitar fuses together aspects of rock and
flamenco, and Franceschini’s soprano solo is quite

“The 7/8 rhythm heard on ‘Black Sea’ is very common to
the Black Sea region of Turkey. Turkey is very much a
mix of different musical cultures from Arabs to
Armenians, Greece to Egypt and Spain, with different
rhythms, tempos and scales. The melody of this piece
reflects the influence of that region on my music.”
The struttin’ “Aheste” has a forceful theme along with
fine solos from Atakoglu, Stern and Franceschini.
“Connection,” a lyrical acoustic piece, is named after
a bridge in Istanbul on which Atakoglu walked many
times during this childhood. It is easy to think of
this melodic and very likable number as a future jazz

“ESS” has a name that is short for “East Side Story,”
the origin of its melody. The piece is propelled by
one of Atakoglu’s best piano solos, building and
building up until its climax. Of “Gypsy In Me,” the
composer says, “I spent a lot of time with gypsies in
Istanbul, often playing and recording with them. The
first part of this piece is a gypsy-inspired melody
while the second part lets the musicians express
themselves.” Atakoglu sounds quite comfortable soloing
at this tempo in 5/4, Franceschini has a passionate
spot and Wayne Krantz is explosive throughout.

“Four Corners” refers to the four chords that repeat
throughout the mysterious and intriguing piece.
“Trapped” is another theme from Atakoglu’s ballet.
“The main character of the ballet feels trapped at the
time that this piece is played, and the melody gives
that type of feeling too.” The set closes with the
haunting and nostalgic ballad “Istanbul In Blue.” “I
wrote the melody for a movie called First Love. It was
played by a Turkish clarinet. I love the theme so
wanted to record it with a full band.”

During the past year, Fahir Atakoglu composed the East
Side Story ballet, wrote for two documentaries and two
movie soundtracks, gave concerts, performed duets with
a famous singer in Turkey and wrote a few jingles. Of
the future, he says, “I want my music to be
appreciated by a wide audience, so I hope that this
album will break out in other areas of the world. My
main goal is to play with a lot of different musicians
from many different styles, adding more and more
flavors to my music.”

When one considers the great variety to be heard
throughout Istanbul In Blue and the perfect mix of
melodies, grooves and improvisations, Fahir Atakoglu’s
future is certainly one to watch closely.

Scott Yanow.
Author of nine jazz books including Swing, Bebop,
Trumpet Kings, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76

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