Album Rating 4.5 / 5
Live Potential 4.5 / 5
Solo Performances 5 / 5
Diversity in Songs 3.5 / 5
Favourite Songs Ayrılık - Seperation; Cano, Cano - Darling, Darling; Nazmiye
The debut and only album release from Austrian oriental jazz fusion band Gülistan has been reissued today through the Paris label Hot Mule Records, as Oriental Groove offers a glimpse into one of the more unusual but original bands that were involved in the Vienna jazz scene in the mid 80s.
Recorded in the summer of 1986 in a small rehearsal room in Vienna's 5th district, the group made an album inspired by gypsies from the Turkish and Balkan region as they used the odd scales and rhythms of East Mediterranean and Middle East songs as vehicles for their improvisations. This would all be done by trying to adapt their instruments and using their European feel to cultivate what ended up to become their signature sound.
After a year of investigating into the group, Louis from Hot Mule managed to put all the members back in touch more than 30 years later and has led an impressive remaster of the release (read further down this article to see other Hot Mule reissues). The 500 limited deluxe edition copies of Oriental Groove include extensive liner notes by London based DJ Donna Leake as well as exclusive archival photos of the group and background to the group's album. Pianist Robert Schaar even explains the message behind the artwork, as the goal was to design something that showed the tension between the Orient and Occident, hence the skyscrapers alongside the dome of a mosque and all the elements of the Turkish flag (the moon crescent, the star and the colour red).
Gülistan (meaning the 'land of the roses' or 'paradise') had originally started back in 1981 as flautist and soprano saxophonist Josef Olt visited Turkey that year and was intrigued by their musical heritage, as he bought may LPs and cassettes to learn about the classical tradition as well as pop and folk music. Initially just a two-man band with Karl Wilhelm Krbavac, they started to play out sequences on a computer program in their early shows for their rhythm parts, before they switched to a tape recorder which became easier to play with the darbuka and synthesiser. Whilst Krbavac left to start his own solo-orchestra, the lineup who played on Oriental Groove emerged in 1985, and this was when they met their sound engineer Mike Fitsch, who recorded the album for them as well as help the band replicate their sound live at shows.
As well as working as a production manager for a big concert agency, Fitsch was studying sound engineering and utilised his contacts as one of his teachers ran a music label. Oriental Groove was originally released through Hans Hartel's Ha Ha Soundwave label, though Hartel admits he did not have much interest in jazz or fusion records at the time, or knew how he could promote it and get airplay on the radio for it in Vienna. He states he used a little trick to get one DJ to play the album:
"I scratched the labels on one of the records to erase my logo, and brought it to one of my contacts at the radio station. I told him I’d met a Turkish truck driver who gave me this incredible album that he had brought to Austria with him. The DJ loved the music and started putting it on rotation."
Fitsch thinks the record was 15 years too early for the Viennese music scene, but it was still well received as his project for a final exam he had whilst still studying. Citing various influences for the album (such as Duke Ellington's 'Caravan', John Coltrane's 'Naima", Paul Desmond's 'Take Five', and Bulgarian and Turkish artists Edna Sutrin Rano and Mustafa Kandirali), the record particularly utilises Olt on the flute and soprano saxophone, and Adula Ibn Quadr on the violin as the main melodies to drive forward the Turkish and Balkan influences. This starts immediately on 'Nazmiye' as the groove tumbles down and gains momentum as Olt's flute spirals continuously before Heimo Tauscher adds increased power on the drums to enhance Ibn Quadr's violin patterns. Schaar has an equally intriguing piano solo that moves into the synth with ease. Schaar monologues on the piano on 'Plajda - On The Beach' which then turns into a menacing tone as Ibn Quadr on the viola hums behind to increase the apprehensive feeling. The almost-marching like drum pattern allows the flute to drift in and lead you on a journey.
This mood is replicated in 'Ayrılık - Seperation' (Alfa Mist and Yussef Dayes' track 'Blacked Out' has a very similar piano sound!) as the piano chimes out solemnly with the gliding flute. Alfred Stütz's bass strums effortlessly with Mehmed Emir's darbuka enhancing the main piano melody, and there is a folk feel to the song as Ibn Quadr elegantly plays the twelve-string guitar on this track. 'Ahtarma Meni - Don't Search Me' has a similar pace to 'Nazmiye' which increases once Tauscher moves onto the ride cymbal, compelling a gypsy dance feel. The flute solo is extensive yet still manages to be creative before the violin solo resonates some wonderfully passionate screeching to match it.
Stütz's phat bass line starts 'Cano, Cano - Darling, Darling' magnificently as the darbuka, piano and fluttering violin synchronise to the riff in a Turkish funk style. Tauscher's drum solo maintains the pace before Olt delivers an equally fast soprano sax solo that moves as quickly as Schaar's wailing synth solo, all under the guise of the funky bass line that drives it all the way through. The use of the toms and other percussive elements in 'Deli Horoz - The Crazy Cock' comes through strongly as Olt on the soprano sax again and Schaar playing a synthy-organ solo both make this a favourite track for solos due to their imaginative nature. The drums are extremely powerful and Ibn Quadr manages to create an intimidating tension after his violin solo as they build up to the main riff at the end.
'Kervan - Caravan' has an ominous sound in the intro as the violin creates a mysterious tone, before the piano comes in with a jaunty pattern that is enhanced by the marching-style drums again. The violin and soprano sax intertwine well on this track to end the album as they reinforce their strange but unique sound tremendously. The band managed to make an appearance on national TV before splitting up, but for most of the band Gülistan was what they did on the side of their day jobs. Some of them were students but only Ibn Quadr was a professional musician at the time before Stütz and Emir became full time musicians later on in their lives. Olt explains how the band dismantled, as he turned down a fantastic offer Schaar received to perform at Jazz-à-Juan Festival in Antibes, southeastern France on the Côte d'Azur (a sister city to the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans):
"After the success experienced with the record and some really wild gigs, I suddenly started to feel extremely exhausted. Later on I understood that I was experiencing a deep depression. The fact that we had trouble finding time to rehearse was also a source of stress. Adula being a professional musician, he had to play with a number of other bands and it was becoming difficult for him to spend time on Gülistan. I remember that he and Mehmed, who was also quite busy with other projects, couldn’t attend some of our rehearsals several times. Some of the other band members had day jobs. All of this was getting a little bit frustrating."
As there was some understandable frustration at passing up the opportunity to play at such a prestigious jazz festival as Jazz-à-Juan (both Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis had recorded live albums there in the 60s), the band never returned together to play and they all went on to focus on other projects. Nonetheless, the band have left a very distinct legacy with Oriental Groove.
The record uses traditional eastern melodies to improvise over as the swirling riffs from the flute, violin and soprano sax compliment the constantly inventive rhythm section as they create mysterious energies that drive both the grooving, dancier rhythms of the LP as well as the more dramatic, poignant tracks.
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Gülistan are: Josef Olt - Flute, Soprano Saxophone, Cabasa, Tambourine, Finger Cymbals, Darbuka (on 'Kervan'); Robert Schaar - Electric Piano, Synthesizers; Adula Ibn Quadr - Viola (on 'Plajda'), Violin & Twelve-String Guitar (on 'Ayrilik'); Alfred Stütz - Electric Bass; Heimo Tauscher - Drums, Percussion; Mehmed Emir - Goblet Drum (Darbuka).