SSR Picks: Daniel - April 7 2022

Okay Temiz / Johnny Dyani: Witchdoctor’s Son LP (orig. 1976, reissued 2019)

In last week’s newsletter I asked y’all for recommendations on slow death metal, and I want to thank everyone who sent me stuff to listen to! It’s been an insane week here at Sorry State and I haven’t had much time or attention to dig into those recommends, but I’m looking forward to it! Sometimes when people write to me to ask about an artist or title or recommend something to me, they seem shy or apologetic, assuming they don’t have anything to tell me about music. That’s bullshit! I am but a novice in the school of music history, and even if I’ve heard of something or even heard it, hearing a particular person recommend it (especially if they share their thoughts on it) can make me hear the music in a new way. So please, keep sharing with me!

My pick for this week is going to refer to another older pick, since my favorite BBC 6 Music show, Stuart Maconie’s The Freak Zone, introduced me to this one. I can’t remember which track from Witchdoctor’s Son they played, but it moved me enough to look up the record later, and when I listened to it I knew it was a must-buy. After a few weeks sitting on the Discogs want list, a reasonably priced copy of this 2019 reissue popped up in the US and I smashed that buy button. It arrived earlier this week and here we are!

Going in, I didn’t know anything about Okay Temiz or Johnny Dyani, but the reissue contains detailed liner notes that give a wealth of context for this album. Okay Temiz is a drummer from Turkey and Johnny Dyani is a bass player from South Africa. Both had migrated to the creatively fertile European jazz scene in the 60s. That scene drew players from all over the world, including expatriates from the American jazz scene attracted by Europe’s less intense racial attitudes and better paying gigs. Temiz and Dyani met playing with American avant-garde legend Don Cherry, and they played with him for years both as a trio and in larger ensembles. During this period, Cherry was consumed by the project of synthesizing a truly global music from folk music traditions from across the world, and Temiz and Dyani found this idea influential, leaning into their influences from their own countries’ folk traditions. After leaving Cherry’s band, Temiz and Dyani formed the trio Music for Xaba with Dyani’s bandmate from South African bebop group the Blue Notes, Mongezi Feza. Unfortunately, though, Feza passed away in December 1975, bringing the group to an end.

Witchdoctor’s Son was recorded during the duo’s 1976 residency in Istanbul, augmented by the musicians who joined them during their live gigs. Witchdoctor’s Son differs from Temiz and Dyani’s other recordings because it seems to have been created for and distributed within the Turkish market. Only 1000 copies of the original record were pressed, the cover art a photogram by the renowned Turkish visual artist Teoman Madra.

Anyone with a taste for Anatolian rock will love the first side of Witchdoctor’s Son, where Temiz composes one original tune and arranges four traditional Turkish songs. These songs are built around the distinctive Turkish scales and melodies I love, and the electric bassist for the session, Oğuz Durukan had even played with Erkin Koray. As much as I love the tunes, though, Temiz is the star of the session, laying down densely polyrhythmic heavy funk grooves that remind me of Jaki Liebezeit’s pioneering drumming for Can. Dyani takes the lead on side 2, arranging all the tracks. This side is cool, especially their version of Don Cherry’s “Elhamdulillah Marimba,” but it’s the a-side that I want to play over and over. Watch out if you listen to the album on YouTube, though, because Dyani’s side appears first on that rip for some reason.

I’m looking forward to checking out more of Temiz’s work in particular, and the liner notes on this reissue serve as a great road map. In the meantime, though, Witchdoctor’s Son is going to get a lot of play.

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