Gülistan ‘Oriental Groove’ LP (Hot Mule) 4/5

Subtitled “Jazz meets the Orient”, this new reissue was the first and only album from Viennese fusioneers, Gülistan, originally released in 1986. The group, all Austrians on this album apart from a newly arrived Kurdish immigrant, was the brainchild of flautist/saxophonist Josef Olt, who nurtured an interest of things Middle Eastern during a holiday in Turkey. A project to bring Balkan and Turkish musical styles to the band’s electric jazz influences, the songs are mainly derived from traditional tunes though there are a couple of originals. The self-financed album was mainly sold at their gigs and not long afterwards the group disbanded, apparently acrimoniously.

“Nazmiye”, begins with a salvo of percussion, the flute and bass take the melody to the middle section, which is essentially 1970s fusion tied to the subtle Middle Eastern rhythm and the ever-present darbuka. The flute and violin are the dominant instruments on all the tracks here and there’s a pleasing light tone when they’re in harmony. On the slower “Plajda – On The Beach”, the Jaco-esque fretless bass is a reminder of the core band style. An original tune, “Deli Horoz – The Crazy Cock” locks into a busy repetitive rhythm for solos incorporating exotic scales. “Ahtarma Meni – Don’t Search Me”, mixes jaunty flute/violin melody lines with cascading keyboard chords which adds a slight Latin edge. The balladic “Ayrılık – Separation” follows which is a little too easy listening for me. Slippy fretless bass introduces “Cano, Cano – Darling, Darling”, the epic highpoint of the album and the most seamless mix of East and West. The closer, “Kervan – Caravan” is probably more recognisable to Western ears as “Misirlou”, particularly the deranged surf rock version by Dick Dale. Obviously, it doesn’t hit the energy levels of that but is a pleasant floaty conclusion to the set.

The album can still be seen as an exciting experiment. The tunes have the glitter of Middle Eastern glamour and underneath there’s substantial groovy jazz fusion, well performed by proficient musicians with a vision. Obviously, these days, the concept of co-opting jazz and ethnic music is not so unusual and the music is very much of its time but that’s fine with me. With thirty-odd years hindsight, there is a slight novelty feel to this album especially apparent with the original packaging and the odd fez here and there! However, it is successful as the simple clean folky melodies and the pyrotechnics of jazz fusion do actually sit very well together. It is also evocative of the time when less esoteric listeners in the West began to dip their toe into what became known as World Music.

The album is well worthy of the Hot Mule reissue and the new liner notes are excellent, recording the reunion of the band members and letting them tell their story. I especially enjoyed the tale of the promotional scam on a local radio station involving an imaginary Turkish truck driver!

Kevin Ward