Olcay Bayir’s ornamentation and range — a legacy of opera training — allow her to deliver centuries-old overlapping Anatolian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern folk repertoire with impressive elegance, emotion and ease in Neva/Harmony.
Malleable vocal cords enable her to make light of fusing Turkish makam (modality) and taksim (improvisation) with Western tonal harmony. Flawless music beds crafted by a cosmopolitan ensemble that includes Turkish, English, Adriatic and Aegean instrumentalists entwine seamlessly around Bayir’s soulful, heartfelt singing.
Aurel Qirjo’s haunting fiddle sets up several tracks and solos fluently on others. His slow, atmospheric intros give way to lively rhythms driven by Bayir’s jaunty singing, clarinet and darbuka drum in the short Albanian love song that opens the album and in a later piece that draws on Balkan folklore.
An air of melancholy surrounds the other seven tracks. Clarinet and violin set a melodic if mournful vibe as frame drum and Bayir’s stunning soprano push a sad-sounding Armenian song forward. Elsewhere, Turkish lutes (saz-baglama and kopuz) and a variety of guitars, including electric, and an array of percussion instruments set the pulse. Bayir’s voice exudes subtlety in a Sephardic lullaby, and she builds beautifully in equally soft register in a slow-burning reading of an Anatolian-Turkish standard.