Türköz's vocals are rich with expression and feeling, calling to mind the wide-open sonority of Tuvan throat singing. But unlike the happy-go-lucky Kongar-ol Ondar, master vocalist from the documentary Genghis Blues, Türköz channels darker forces. Perhaps it's the pain of singing traditional songs that hail from a homeland she never saw. Although her family members come from East Turkistan, Türköz was born in Istanbul, where her elders had settled after wending their way through various Middle Eastern and European countries. Türköz began soaking up folk songs at an early age, infusing the tunes with expressionistic improvisation, and eventually becoming a popular singer at weddings and social functions.
But she didn't stop there: Türköz moved to Switzerland and immersed herself in the new-music scene, and that's where the story gets really weird. While the singer debuted with a CD of traditional songs in 1994, she soon began popping up on avant-jazz albums like Aki Onda's Beautiful Contradiction, carving out a niche for herself as an interpreter of old music in new settings. On Marmara Sea, Türköz tackles traditional Anatolian, Turkish, and Kazakh tunes as well as her own, pairing herself with fellow innovators in duets that are both stunning and maddening.
On the opening track, "Aksam Oldu," bassist Joëlle Léandre lends an ominous air to Türköz's seductive voice, which wavers and warbles the sorrowful lyrics. During "Geceler," Burhan Öçal's lightning-quick oud (a mandolinlike instrument) adds the perfect tension to Türköz's desolate lament. On several other tracks, Elliott Sharp's spooky guitar effects contrast nicely with the singer's deep vibrato.
Türköz draws on a deep well of feeling to guide her interpretations of folk songs, rather than relying on classical structures. She bridges the gap between old and new, connecting with improv-oriented musicians. The traditionals, however, can become monotonous over time, as Türköz appears hemmed in by the tunes' limitations. Still, the sheer intensity and musical surprises on Marmara Sea make it a worthwhile take on world music, with Türköz proving that globalism isn't always a bad thing.