Turkish Hipster: Tales From Swing To Psychedelic
Release date: July 21, 2023
Label: DÜNYA

Turkish Hipster: Tales From Swing To Psychedelic is a powerful new collection of stirring compositions. On his seventh album, Sanlıkol finds a through-line that connects musical cultures from all over the globe, and taps into these commonalities to create works that can resonate with us all. Turkish Hipster allows the listener into the mind of the composer and to delight in the beauty of a global musical language. 

Sanlıkol's stellar large ensemble is comprised of drummer Antonio Sanchez, clarinetist Anat Cohen, alto saxophonists Miguel Zenón, Mark Zaleski, Aaron Kaufman-Levine, and Lihi Haruvi, tenor saxophonists Rick DiMuzio, Bill Jones, and Aaron Henry, baritone saxophonists Melanie Howell Brooks and Kathy Olson, trumpeters Mike Peipman, Jeff Claassen, Dan Rosenthal, Doug Olsen, and Jerry Sabatini, trombonists Chris Gagne, Bob Pilkington and Garo Saraydarian, bass trombonist Angel Subero, pianist Utar Artun, guitarist Phil Sargent, bassist Fernando Huergo, and percussionists Bertram Lehmann and George Lernis. Sanlıkol also contributes to the album by singing as well as performing various Turkish instruments as well as the berimbau, synthesizers, keyboards and Fender Rhodes.

While the album title Turkish Hipster might conjure images of Brooklyn residents donning small beanie hats digging through crates of vinyl records, the moniker is in fact intended to describe the band leader himself. Sanlıkol, it seems, is the original hipster (the composer shed his early western-classical piano training to play progressive rock in his teenage years). When prog became mainstream, he went on to study jazz. When a digital instrument adequate enough to perform his microtonal melody lines didn’t exist, he designed and created one, known as the “SANLIKOL Renaissance 17”. Finally - where a sound did not exist before that embodied the many musical languages that he is so heavily steeped in, Sanlıkol created that sound - alongside his masterful ensemble ‘Whatsnext?’. Hipster; intellectual; renaissance man; whatever you want to call him, Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol is driven by passion and authenticity. He delivers both on this hard-hitting release.

On Turkish Hipster, audiences hear Brazilian capoeira married with Turkish folk, Turkish psychedelic rock culled from the 1970s and American hip-hop all within a jazz orchestra idiom. Historically, the album features the first-ever recorded performance of the saxophone and the trumpet sections of a jazz orchestra playing precise microtonal flavors of Turkish music. Sanlıkol achieved these results through the use of alternate fingerings and various techniques he perfected over several decades.

“Perhaps it is fair to say that this album presents innovative original music written for jazz orchestra that has entry points for a wide audience due to its stylistic variety and accessibility,” Sanlıkol reflects. While acknowledging that non-western influences tend to inspire many jazz recordings these days, this one, he feels, is particularly special: “What I am suggesting, and presenting on this album, is a sophisticated form of cosmopolitanism that allows us to access many worlds without seeking to reduce or standardize them.”

In line with such cosmopolitanism, what begins Turkish Hipster is a piece built around a fully hybrid groove which Sanlıkol constructed as a result of his multi-musical past. In “A Capoeira Turca (Baia Havası)” while the trumpets and featured clarinetist, Anat Cohen, can be heard playing selected microtonal flavors of Turkish folk music through the alternate fingerings Sanlıkol developed, the binding musical element is the hybrid groove that connects to lighter and funkier Brazilian feels as well as feels reminiscent of those found in vintage Turkish rock recordings from the 1970s. Perhaps the most adventurous and expansive compositional statement on the album is “The Times of the Turtledove” which was inspired by a classical Ottoman/Turkish rhythmic cycle derived from the call of a turtledove. This piece featuring Miguel Zenón presents an extended microtonal section fully steeped in classical Ottoman/Turkish music. 

The Boston Beat” pays homage to Boston’s great jazz legacy featuring renowned rapper Raydar Ellis as well as Anat Cohen, Antonio Sanchez and Miguel Zenón. Sanlıkol notes ““Estarabim” has certainly been one of my favorite Turkish rock songs of all time and it is the kind of classic that would be immediately recognized by pretty much any Turkish person,” the Boston-based artist shares. “While I tend to distance myself from music that has achieved the status of a classic, I made an exception here due to being convinced by the horn arrangement as well as the ska/reggae influences.”

The “Abraham Suite”, which concludes the album, was first commissioned and recorded at the Jazzaar Festival in 2019. That project united three different composers (Gil Goldstein, Fritz Renold and Sanlıkol) representing the three different Abrahamic faith traditions’ versions of Abraham’s story. Sanlıkol has wanted to release a jazz orchestra version of his suite ever since, and is thrilled to see it come to fruition here. 

As far as Turkish Sufi music influences go, first section “The Fire” is where they can be heard most clearly in the form of a zikir (vocal ostinato), while “The Sacrifice” begins with a calm introduction led by the duduk (double reed pipe). This track quickly transitions to an anxious Afro-Cuban fusion feel building up throughout the movement while featuring several soloists. Finally, “The Call” brings this suite to a point of reflection. “I have been after a touch of eternity”, Sanlıkol’s lyrics lament - sharing with us the true purpose of the artist’s journey, to strive towards a moment, of which there are many on this very album, where time seems to stop and our spirit soars.

An Elegant Ritual
Release date: July 16, 2021
Label: DÜNYA

Celebrated pianist, composer and noted scholar Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol presents his new full-length album An Elegant Ritual. This revelatory new recording deepens Sanlıkol’s singular approach to melding the sonorities of Turkish music with contemporary jazz language, striking a distinct balance between tradition and innovation. On his first ever trio recording, the prolific multi-instrumentalist realizes this expanded vision with James Heazlewood-Dale on acoustic bass and George Lernis on drums, gongs and bendir (a wooden-framed drum typical in the music of the Middle East).

Sanlıkol’s eagerly-awaited new release synergizes the concept of the classic piano trio with his own musical paradigm which draws from a diverse array of worldly and spiritual inspirations. The set transcends the typical piano trio format with the addition of Sanlıkol’s expressive vocalisations and captivating performance on the ney (a traditional end-blown flute that figures prominently in Middle Eastern music), as well as with Lernis’ use of Indonesian gongs and the bendir. An Elegant Ritual follows Sanlıkol’s critically-acclaimed 2020 release The Rise Up: Stories of Strife, Struggle and Inspiration which featured his dynamic jazz orchestra Whatsnext? and NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman as soloist. 

Though Sanlıkol has regularly performed in small group formats for nearly two decades, this is his first recorded trio venture. The hold up, he reveals, was in part due to a deep seated desire to innovate, and say something entirely new in the time-honed format. “Perhaps my obsession with wanting to say something new originates from having seen the busts of Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin on my mother’s piano since early childhood,” he muses, “I do realize that that model is problematic due to the way it defines newness and innovation in a Eurocentric way, which in turn expresses a type of homegrown exoticism.” Throughout his active and diverse career, in which he has acutely straddled the lines of jazz and a variety of Turkish musics, he has helped carry the notion of newness toward a more pluralistic and inclusive point where improvisation plays an important role. In the end, the urge to say something ‘new’ has always been present in his work and An Elegant Ritual is no exception.

While An Elegant Ritual surely pushes musical boundaries, Sanlıkol made a conscious effort to stay somewhat loyal to the jazz piano trio tradition in reverence to its rich history and craftsmanship. In this spirit, the entire album was recorded live devoid of overdubs or special effects. Furthermore, pieces such as “Invitation” – which is the only standard present – and “Lost Inside” invoke the piano trio aesthetic by keeping with the traditional jazz instrumentation, with no extra instruments added or Turkish/world music influences explicitly heard. 

The bulk of An Elegant Ritual features varying degrees of Turkish and other musical influences, augmented by Sanlıkol’s emotive vocal stylings present on nearly all the tracks with the exception of the title track, the aforementioned “Invitation” and interludes. Whenever Turkish music elements are at play, Sanlıkol also makes a concerted effort to honor that tradition’s subteletlies of the makam (mode) and usul (rhythmic cycles) concepts. 

Structurally, An Elegant Ritual is modeled after a Sufi whirling dervish ritual (Mevlevi ayin) with influences from John Coltrane’s hallmark A Love Supreme. The Mevlevi ayin typically features a central composition bracketed by an opening call and a preparatory piece in front, and two upbeat pieces at the end. Here, the central composition has four movements (like A Love Supreme) with strategically designed appearances of the gongs and ney. And also like A Love Supreme, Sanlıkol desired to imbue a sense of spirituality within the music, a quality that is prominently felt on the title track in particular. 

An Elegant Ritual is set in motion with “The 7th Day”, which after a prelude (or an ‘opening call’), sets the stage with Sanlıkol’s emotive scat-singing and incandescent performance on the piano. This preparatory piece is followed by “Lost Inside”, which kicks off the four-movement album centerpiece. Leaning toward the traditional jazz trio aesthetic, “Lost Inside” showcases the composer’s tremendous improvisational acuity, and the marvelous interplay of the rhythm section. While the majority of this album features pieces that have short forms and are essentially vehicles toward improvisation (in line with the jazz trio tradition), “Arayış / In Search” and the following “An Elegant Ritual” are ambitious compositions which extend that aesthetic toward innovation. 

“An Elegant Ritual” introduces listeners to ideas and timbres that are entirely new, and have never been heard before in this type of setting. “The opening duo of the bass and ney in unison was achieved by having the bass play the challenging natural harmonics at the very top of its range which perfectly complemented the microtonal nature of the ney. On the other hand, the use of gongs originated more than 20 years ago when I first heard Javanese Gamelan. After studying Javanese Gamelan for a number of years and eventually assembling our own set of gongs, I wrote the interlocking gong and usul pattern based on the cyclical structures of that tradition which serves as the foundation of the composition,” describes Sanlıkol. While it took over six months for Lernis and Sanlıkol to find, order and properly arrange the gongs in their set, the most stunning achievement of all is that Lernis learned to play the complex, interlocking gong and drums pattern in a very short period of time with amazing precision. 

And while instruments like the ney can be found in jazz contexts regularly these days, it is Sanlıkol’s observation that a true synthesis of the jazz and the ethnic musical tradition is hard to come by. “After many years of performing jazz followed by an intense and a lengthy period of strictly traditional Turkish music performance, I found myself at a point where I started to ‘speak’ both of those musical languages on a number of instruments and as a singer,” he describes. As a result, Sanlıkol chose to comp himself on the piano while improvising on the ney simultaneously, as heard on “An Elegant Ritual”.

Sanlıkol’s vocals can be heard most notably in the prelude and in “Hasret”. The composer describes his vocal style as a blend of Turkish aesthetics and scat-singing acting as a bridge between two traditions. Doubling melodic and improvised lines, and independently countering Sanlıkol’s harmonic refrains and rhythmic movement from Lernis and HeazlewoodDale, the fervency and resolve in the bandleader’s voice reminds one of the sound of Coltrane’s horn on A Love SupremeThe album concludes with the sole non-original piece “Invitation”, a masterful nod towards the classic jazz trio sounds of yesteryear. Sanlıkol remarks, that “the two upbeat pieces at the end (traditional in a dervish ritual) are echoed here by the postlude and “Invitation”, which is my invitation to you to join this Elegant Ritual.”

A masterwork of sonancy and cultural interchange, An Elegant Ritual is “an awakening”, New York Times Best Selling author Kabir Sehgal proclaims. “From the first notes, you know that you’re in for an adventure, not just one that spans East and West. But that of a cognitive leap towards what music can be.”

The Rise Up: Stories of Strife, Struggle and Inspiration
Release date: August 21, 2020
Label: DÜNYA

“It’s hard to find unique music nowadays. It’s even harder to find unique large-ensemble music. Mehmet and his band are, in my opinion, one of the most interesting musical associations on the scene. They easily navigate between the jazz, Turkish and Middle Eastern worlds effortlessly. The Rise Up, being commissioned by special guest Dave Liebman, is a huge compositional and conceptual accomplishment where storytelling is paramount and the performance is immaculate. Movements of the piece blend seamlessly and paint a big picture that is ambitious but crystal clear in its execution. Dave Liebman shines through it and so does the whole ensemble. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.” – 5x GRAMMY Winner Antonio Sanchez

Prolific composer and multi-instrumentalist Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol unveils his most ambitious project yet: THE RISE UP: Stories of Strife, Struggle and Inspiration with his dynamic jazz orchestra Whatsnext? Written for and featuring NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman as soloist, The Rise Up is an epic three-part artistic masterpiece that combines traditional Middle Eastern instrumentation and classical Turkish music with the jazz language in a cosmopolitan and internalized fashion.

The seeds for The Rise Up were planted in 2017, when Dave Liebman asked Sanlıkol to compose an extended programmatic piece for jazz orchestra featuring himself as soloist. Particularly, Liebman requested that the piece draw from Turkish and Sephardic Jewish musical elements as well as cultural and historical resources. Saddened and personally affected by the current political climate and offensive stereotyping of Muslims in the US, Sanlıkol chose to construct the piece around three episodes from Middle Eastern history that chronicle traumatic events followed by transcendental creation and/or human inspiration. This uplifting message speaks to Sanlıkol’s belief that humanity will rise up above these difficult times. Now, in an unexpected turn of events, his sentiments are more relevant than ever in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the Black Lives Matter protests.

The first narrative centers around the great 13th century Sufi poet Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi, composer of some of the most beautiful mystical poetry ever written after the murder of Shams (lit. “sun” in Arabic), his beloved teacher and friend. The second story comes from the traditions of the Sephardim, Jews expelled from Spain but welcomed by the Ottomans, leading to a cultural flowering treasured to this day. The third narrative tells the story of Mimar Sinan, forcibly taken by the Ottomans as a young Orthodox Christian boy, who came to embrace his new Muslim identity and rose to great heights in mid-16th century as the master architect of some of the greatest mosques in the world.

In constructing The Rise Up, Sanlıkol took some cues from another masterpiece: Miles Davis Gil Evans’ perennial Sketches of Spain. Knowing Liebman’s affinity for Sketches…, Sanlıkol decided to incorporate the kind of orchestration found on that recording. Thus, the standard big band with saxophones, trumpets, trombones and rhythm section has been expanded with additional winds and brass including oboe, English horn, flute, clarinets, bass clarinet, French horn and tuba. This expanded instrumentation is then supplemented by a variety of Middle Eastern instruments and percussion such as the ney (end-blown flute), zurna (double reed pipe), ud (short-necked lute), darbuka (goblet-shaped drum), tef (small frame drum with cymbals), nekkare (small kettledrums), and kös (large kettledrums) as well as orchestral percussion and voices both solo and tutti with a small group of singers performing in the Greek Orthodox (Byzantine) style.

While The Rise Up pulls from myriad musical styles throughout, Sanlıkol manages to preserve the integrity of each tradition. “As a musician who is devoted to a type of multiculturalism that is not touristic but truly internalized, I was particularly careful to incorporate the Turkish makamusul (rhythmic cycles), microtones, and inflections without exoticizing them,” he said.

The Rise Up features Mehmet Ali Sanlıkol & Whatsnext? and is conducted by Ken Schaphorst. This album is supported by grants from the New England Conservatory, The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and The American Turkish Society.

For 'Turkish Hipster: Tales From Swing To Psychedelic'

Read the review here.

"...it’s the funky infectious hybrid groove incorporating vintage Turkish rock recordings from the 1970s that gives the piece oomph and momentum..." Read the full review here.

See mention here.

Read the full review in french here.

"Mehmet Ali Sanlikol brings those influences full circle on Turkish Hipster, building his jazz orchestrations around deeply felt Anatolian roots."Read the full review here.

"Although Mehmet Ali Sanlikol plays with tempos and genres on this, his seventh album as a bandleader, his is the kind of music that draws you in and holds you tightly." Read the full review  here.

"Mehmet Ali Sanlikol concocts a global cocktail by mixing the microtonal flavors of Turkish music, then shaking well in a  big-band pitcher with guests Anat Cohen, Miguel Zenon and Antonio Sanchez." Read the full review here.

"A riveting and rewarding sonic treat, “A Capoeira Turca (Baia Havası)” welcomes the listener into the mind of a truly unique artistic force." Read the full review here.

"During his time in the city, he’s become an invaluable member of the jazz and classical communities. It was also in Boston that he discovered, studied, and mastered the traditional Turkish traditions he had largely ignored as a jazz- and rock-loving teenager." Read the full review here.

"Sanlikol knows where is going but chooses to get there in his own special way, using every weapon in his musical arsenal to create vivid sound pictures whose jazz components rest solidly within a Middle Eastern framework that set them apart from the norm—and are decidedly hip." Read the full review here.

For 'An Elegant Ritual'

"The textures and timbres that Sanlıkol’s trio create—often with the aid of Lernis on gong, gamelan, and bendir—don’t just aid the structure but create a sacred atmosphere; like a strong gust of incense, you can’t help but breathe it in and let it fill your senses." Read the full review here.

"Wade in for something utterly new and you may find yourself immersed in the deep end of these remarkable sounds." Read the full review here.

"The impulse to sing along rules in “Hasret,” a showcase for Sanlikol’s vocals. Both declamatory and confessional, they are the lasting power behind this memorable album." Read the full four star review here.

"Whether leading a cast of dozens or teaming up with two other serious talents, Sanlıkol manages to leverage customs and conventions to create something magical that is all its own." Read the full review in the February 2022 issue of New York City Jazz Record here.

"Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, Grammy-nominated musician, composer, and faculty member at the New England Conservatory, joins us to talk about his new album, "An Elegant Ritual," which comes out Friday, and the value of speaking multiple musical languages." Listen to the full segment here.

"..this is the first piano-trio recording of his career, and long overdue." Read the full review here.

"The album rounds off with the Bronislaw Kaper composition ‘Invitation’, we come full circle as Sanlikol explores this jazz standard as a pianist with a deep knowledge of his own musical roots. It’s played with the authenticity of a Turkish American who has woven together both strands of his identity." Read this review here.


"When interesting modes, rhythmic cycles and fluid dynamics are applied, the result becomes an articulate conversation and atmospheric musical journey." Read the full review here.

Watch the video premiere of "The 7th Day" here.

"This music is rich with art, history and spirit.  It stretches the boundaries of jazz, offering the listener adventurous arrangements that embrace Eastern and Western culture and take a cognitive leap towards what jazz is and what it can be." Read the full review here.

"..a balance between tradition and innovation." Read the full review in Spanish here.

"...a rich tapestry of music and worship." Review here

"A truly multicultural album with a strong spiritual jazz feel." Read this listing here.


Watch the video premiere for 'Lost Inside' here.

"More up the world jazzers alley than the casual listener, he's never less than a pro throughout and sure to tempt the adventurous listener into delving deeper once the bug has bit." Review here.

For 'The Rise Up: Stories of Strife, Struggle and Inspiration'

JazzTimes is honored to premiere the video for “The Owl Song” by composer/multi-instrumentalist Mehmet Ali Sanlikol and his jazz orchestra Whatsnext? The track, written by Sanlikol, appears on the group’s latest album, The Rise Up: Stories of Strife, Struggle and Inspiration, which was released in August 2020 on Dünya Records. Check this video premiere  here.

"The new album is structured around three episodes from Middle Eastern history as well as the current pandemic. Musically, it presents a wonderful fusion of jazz with traditional Turkish instruments and colors." Check this playlist here.

"In concept and execution this is an excellent recording." Read the four star review in the September issue. 

"Looking for some Monday motivation? We’ve got you covered! From a piece inspired by Sufi poet Rumi to a composition…" Check this article out here.

"The Rise Up is such a fascinating journey, a splendid mixture, with a such a panoply of sounds as well as melodies based on traditional music." Check this review here.

"Combining the histories of seemingly disparate yet intertwined people while insinuating the music and instrumentation of the Middle East into a big-band jazz setting, Sanlikol relates stories of redemption and newfound grace while poignantly arranging a unique constellation of instrumentation—one that provides Liebman ample space to help narrate the story." Check the video premiere here.

"This is Grammy Award-winning music.  You will be transformed, and that’s really what great music is all about; transformation and rebirth." Check this review here.

"It’s a poignant reminder that the Ottoman empire was multi-ethnic and multi-cultural and the heart of this deeply-felt and lovingly executed project." Read the review here.

"This uplifting message expresses Sanlıkol’s confidence that humanity will rise up above these challenging times." Check this review here.

"In other words, it is exquisite music, superbly written and performed, and stars are awarded on that basis." Check this review here.

"The Rise Up, being commissioned by special guest Dave Liebman, is a huge compositional and conceptual accomplishment where storytelling is paramount and the performance is immaculate. Movements of the piece blend seamlessly and paint a big picture that is ambitious but crystal clear in its execution. Dave Liebman shines through it and so does the whole ensemble. Just sit back and enjoy the ride." Check this review here.

"A high water mark for the arm chair traveler feeling restless in these stay at home times when something more potent than going out for a drink is called for." Check this review here.

 "A large ensemble album that will have a good run at a Grammy in that category and should find a global audience for its quality and masterful writing and performance. Stunning!!!!!"  Check this playlist here.


"Sanlikol ha sabido aunar el jazz con las músicas turca, árabe y flamenca consiguiendo un todo perfectamente engrasado, preservando la integridad de las tradiciones pero sin renunciar a lo contemporáneo." Para leer este articulo presione aquí.

"The best of music is to bring people and ideas together. Mehmet Ali Sanlikol brings  his voice and middle eastern instruments of the ney, zurna and ud to team up with guest soprano saxist Dave Liebmen and the 18 member orchestra conducted by Ken Schaphorst to speak to “our better angels” in this time of tumult." Read the full review here. 

"The Rise Up, the new release by Turkish-Amercian musician and composer Mehmet Ali Sanlikol is a fine example of a composer musically narrating key moments in the history of the Middle East and doing so with grace and gusto." Read the full review here. 

Read the full review here. 

An exciting journey through time and space with striking contrasts.

Selected as a Top Release Pick of 2020. Read the full list here.

"Taken as a whole The Rise Up confirms that talents of composer and soloist in the creation of a suite that could be repeatedly appreciated." Read the review here. 

"The Rise Up is a magnificent work." Read the full review here.

"It's absolutely stunning." Read the full review here.

Named to the Best Jazz of 2020 list here.