Pete Namlook’s recorded output is quite diverse, partly due to his great variety of collaborators. Part of what makes Sultan stand out is the virtuosic playing of Burhan Öçal, on both stringed instruments and percussion. This really distinguishes it from other FAX releases which tend to be more atmospheric – the only similar one that comes to mind is the Dark Side of the Moog series, with the legendary Klaus Schulze sometimes soloing on synthesizer. But Sultan has a much more “acoustic” quality when it focuses on the stringed instruments – I know nothing about Turkish instruments, but the liner notes state that he plays the tambura, oud, and baglama (also known as the divan-saz?). Sometimes these segments have ambient pads in the background, other times they focus on the instrument itself. The percussion segments are a mix of EDM drums and acoustic percussion. There are definitely a variety of moods, established partly by the choice of instruments in each piece.
The first piece is called “Yenilik” and is divided into eight parts – two are over five minutes long, one is over ten minutes long, the rest are one-two minutes. The first two tracks kind of set the pattern – Part I features one of the stringed instruments, then Part II introduces delay-laden percussion, first acoustic, then electronic beats and sounds emerge. The energy really picks up with a synth solo (played by Öçal?), and also brings to mind questions of how this was recorded – was it built bit-by-bit, in back and forth between Öçal & Namlook? Or is it mostly improvised? These are questions that I cannot answer. Part IV – the longest section of “Yenilik” – is a percussion workout! I mention this because I saw on the progarchives forum someone say “drum solos don’t belong on studio albums” so if that’s what you think, then beware! But voice comes in partway through, further establishing the mood of the piece.
The album closes with “Gel Gör Beni Ask N’eyledi,” a long ambient piece accompanying some poetry read by Öçal. This piece is much more chill-out than the other tracks, though there are beats at various points – one even in 5/4! That alone should grant this album prog-worthy status.
Apparently this was originally planned as the first in a series of 36 releases exploring and remembering the rulers of the Ottoman Empire, but only two other titles were released that I am aware of – unfortunately Peter Namlook passed away in 2012. Burhan Öçalhas played with Sting (!), the Kronos Quartet and harmolodic bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and is also an actor, and still active today.
One interesting thing about the FAX label is that the original releases were usually put out in limited numbers – 500 for the early releases, 3000 for the later Dark Side of the Moog entries. They would often later re-release albums on the Ambient World label with different artwork – one of my copies of Sultan is one of these. But I also found a Turkish release that differs as well – the front cover has cool calligraphy for Öçal’s name and the back cover has the Turkish address for the record company, Ada Müzik.
(This review was originally written for progarchives.com and has been modified slightly for this blog – the original review can be found here.)