Outfitted with neither keys nor frets, the trombone doesn't need to stay within the delineated boundaries of a scale – it can slide between whole notes, sharps, and flats, into the nether regions of the microtonal. Like a violin or a slide guitar, there's no tone a trombone can't shift to in mid-flight, no scale it can't traverse, and thus, no cultural music tradition into which it can't fit, like cinnamon in a savory dish.
That makes it the perfect instrument for Altin Sencalar. The Austin-based trombonist, composer, and teacher grew up with two different cultural backgrounds: Mexican and Turkish. Add in the bop and Latin jazz the young musician's learned from Austin mentors like Andre Hayward and Pete Rodriguez, not to mention the dozens of side gigs he's performed since his debut at 18 at the Brass House, and Sencalar becomes the kind of well-rounded player for which an instrument like the trombone is made.
Dedicated to his grandfathers, the late John Fernando Garcia and Bülent S¸ençalar, a still active Turkish musician, Sencalar's third album, Reconnected, reflects all of these experiences. Electing to go chordless – no piano, guitar or other instrument that can lay down beds of interlaced notes – Sencalar recruits bassist Utah Hamrick and drummer Daniel Dufour for a set of originals and covers that doesn't so much showcase the leader's influences as craftily blend them all into one seamless aggregation.
Pole position track "Chance" sets the scene with a foot-shuffling salsa beat and an ascending lick that subtly blends in Turkish tonalities – the song draws you in with its rhythm, then makes your ear itch with unfamiliar (to Westerners) note choices. Inspired by Garcia's funeral, "Desnudo" mixes Latin and Turkish melodies and salsa percussion with blues riffs and driving repetitive bass, rearranging the usual head-solo-head pattern into different sections that evolve organically out of what came before. "Links" heads straight to the dance floor with its hip-weaving rhythm, as Sencalar invites his mentor Rodriguez to trade licks in the introduction and harmonize on the hard-bopping main melody. Sencalar brings his dream home on the title track, with its brooding, almost chantlike Turkish melody, Latin rhythm, and bop mechanics for a tune that embodies his vision of cross-cultural connection.
The trombonist sometimes makes it easy on listeners, through the straight-ahead bop of "Reaching Out for More" with guest saxist Roxy Coss and "A Modern Memory," which strips down to drum beat, bass thrum, and 'bone licks for both the most minimalist and the most traditional tune here. Sencalar's readings of pop standards "Tenderly" and "I Hear a Rhapsody" also luxuriate in the jazz tradition, emphasizing his full-bodied tone. Meanwhile, the lack of a chordal instrument gives the tracks a lighter-than-air feel – it's easy to find your way into the songs, as the band has left plenty of room. Though Sencalar invites us into a world interwoven with touchstones of different cultures, he wants the journey to be easy – this is an album as accessible as it is experimental. Reconnected isn't a lesson on musical multiculturalism, but a personal statement cannily using all of the elements at its creator's command.
Sencalar performs a livestreamed album release show at Monks Jazz on August 27, the album’s release date.
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