Istanbul-based vocalist Başak Yavuz bears more than a passing resemblance to Jefferson Airplane’s original soul sister, Grace Slick. Yavuz’s new, Dec. 15, 2016 album, A Little Red Bug (things & records), features 11 tracks (all but the classic “Bye Bye Blackbird” written by her) in English and her native language of Turkish.
Her edgy, frank vocals sets the tone and grounds out a lot of craziness going on around her, like on the very abstract, avant-garde show piece, “Set Me On Fire, Baby!”
Equal parts Spoken Word and modern acid-rock lullaby, Yavuz calmly lays down her vocal track in the midst of a nightmare explosion — sounds of men shrieking, as if dying to get out of an asylum.
On the title track, Yavuz channels Icelandic, experimental-pop firebrand Björk on a scary-poetic tear — without the extreme outbursts on the shallow end. Yavuz plays “A Little Red Bug” closer to the vest, with maternal contemplation, as the drums fire off and the electric guitar flares around her.
What keeps this eclectic, exotic-sounding album from going off the rails is Yavuz’s voice, both conversational and theatrical.
She can go with the flow of the nutball musicians on board with her, or flow off her own tranquil compositions like a true troubadour.
As if flicking on a light switch, Yavuz performs abstract and lyrical seamlessly. “Yoksun” is completely off the wall, alight with a series of robotic gurgles and blips, and the singer jumping on the erratic, metallic bandwagon.
Then, she’s a female crooner breathy and ponderous, perhaps emulating a mix of country brass and R&B soul, embracing the human breakage in her natural, casual voice — unadulterated by autotune or polished affectation, floating over a violin timbre in the lilting, classical ballet of “Tomorrow’s Memories.”
There’s no confining her to any one label. That’s the beauty of this original artist verging on abstract and lyrical, able to comfortably ride stream of conscious unconsciousness and straight-ahead jazz, without having to choose.
Her one cover of “Bye Bye Blackbird” is far from standard, voice on vibrate — set to stun — weighted down by burden yet yearning to fly. She’s accompanied early on by a reed instrument mirroring the chirping of a bird, weaving her contrary spell, before the pianist and the rest of the rhythm section plus sax bliss out on an ultra-modern, straight-ahead jazz bender.
Yavuz can do both, remember?
Basak Yavuz went from architect to jazz vocalist after she took the 2008 Nardis Jazz Vocal Competition. She studied music in two respected schools in New York City: the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music and Manhattan School of Music. Back home in Turkey, Yavuz hosts two Acik Radio shows, is a jazz voice and ensemble instructor at Bahcesehir University, as well as a songwriting teacher at Bilgi University in Istanbul.