Masterful composer & fusion guitarist Okan Ersan takes listeners on a musical journey through outer space on NIBIRU.
Ersan’s quartet with keyboardist Serkan Özyilmaz, bassist Eylem Pelit, and drummer Volkan Öktem performs an original seven-part suite full of electronic excitement, colorful ensembles, and individual heroics.
Okan Ersan, a powerful guitarist, and an imaginative composer, debuts a seven-piece work on Nibiru inspired by a signal received in 1977 that is believed to be the first ever transmission from outer space. The most suitable music to depict a journey through the galaxies and the vastness of space is futuristic jazz fusion, an area that the guitarist explores with keyboardist Serkan Özyilmaz, bassist Eylem Pelit, and drummer Volkan Öktem during the ambitious project.
Named after the mythical planet Nibiru, the program gives listeners an uncharted perspective of the universe along with some dazzling music. Each of its seven chapters tells a different outer space story.
The opening “6EQUJ5 (Wow Signal)” starts with Morse code which seeks to translate the legendary outer space transmission from 1977. The rhythm is soon emulated by Ersan on guitar and the tight quartet which engages in intense interplay. Here, as on several of the pieces, the music is blended with recordings of space captured by NASA.
“As Far Away As Possible” tells the story of light in space (which is used to calculate light years) on a piece that is both brooding and beautiful while conveying the endless nature of space. “Deep Field,” which begins with some furious drumming from Öktem, has a mysterious feel and some raging guitar. “Gravitational Waves” features a catchy rhythmic pattern and wild guitar playing. In contrast, “Transcending” is a quiet piece with a lyrical statement from Ersan. “Nibiru” is an imagined greeting from the fictional outer planet to Earth. Its music, which is topped off by an attractive closing groove, is celebratory and welcoming. The suite concludes with “Space Jungle – Anunnaki” which uses some otherworldly sounds to depict the natives of Nibiru on a desperate journey to save their planet.
Okan Ersan was born and raised in Cyprus, earning a music degree from the Marmara University in Istanbul in 1994. Inspired by such guitarists as Al DiMeola, Scott Henderson, Robben Ford, and Mike Stern, Ersan has developed his own individual style within classic fusion. In 2005 he made his recording debut as a leader with To Whom It May Concern, touring the United States and appearing at the Kansas City Jazz Festival. Over the next few years, he opened for such luminaries as DiMeola, Ford, Chick Corea and John McLaughlin in addition to performing with Dave Weckl. In 2011, Ersan recorded A Reborn Journey which included Weckl and Ernie Watts in the supporting cast.
Okan Ersan has since headlined at many international festivals, continued to grow as a musician and now, with the release of Nibiru, he has released his most adventurous and colorful work.
On 20th July fifty years ago, Apollo 11 landed the first two people ever to stand on the moon: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. It is therefore timely that respected jazz fusion guitarist, Nicosia, Cyprus – based Okan Ersan is this summer releasing his third album, the space-themed concept album, NIBIRU.
Whilst elsewhere in his music Ersan’s debt to traditional Cypriot music can often clearly be heard, in this latest album, fuelled no doubt by the healthy jazz club scene on Cyprus, NIBIRU’s jazz fusion by contrast looks ‘onwards and upwards’, the inclusion of NASA recorded deep space noises adding to this feel.
Opening with the melodic and resonant ‘6EQUJ5 (Wow Signal)’, Ersan plays this signal as Morse code, which motif permeates the whole, speedy and exciting, piece. Serkan Ozyilmaz’ keys solo is striking, as is Eylem Pelit’s bass contribution.
Ersan’s fine fusion guitar technique is on display throughout, perhaps never more so than in the second tune, the mid-tempo ‘As Far AwayAs Possible’, while the spacey ‘Deep Field’ depicts Ersan’s musical response to a specific Hubble image of part of Ursa Major.
The fun, fourth piece, ‘Gravitational Waves’ similarly blends deep space recordings with synthy beeps and squalls, via some exuberant, at times distorted rock guitar. This is followed by the calmness of ‘Transcending’, a delicate meditation on the oneness of all energies.
The title track ‘NIBIRU’ throttles forward again with some nifty rock guitar figures and pacey drumming from the fourth member of the quartet, tireless drummer Volkan Oktem, whilst ‘Space Jungle’ with its cool electronics (or is it recorded space noise?) opening is pleasingly odd, in part due to the alien-sounding vocalisations.
Interestingly Ersan describes a particular inspiration to NIBIRU as being the 1977 Wow signal, considered to be the first ever received alien transmission from outer space, whilst the album moniker is a mythical planet that, by some, was thought to herald Doomsday. Serious stuff. However, this album is the antithesis of grim, being almost uniformly up-tempo, with it, most of the time, proving impossible to tell apart the recorded deep space noise from the band’s synths.
Whilst this science-loving reviewer enjoyed perhaps most of all the more electronic/ spacey tracks, the entire album has tremendous momentum, the sheer fun of it all perhaps belying the skills of the band and not least of composer Ersan. Should they choose to, it is clear they could move deeper into the jazz of jazz fusion; nevertheless, what they do here they do very entertainingly and very well indeed.
OKAN ERSAN’S NIBIRU: AN ELEGANT FUSION OF SPACE AND JAZZ THEMESPop, classical and jazz musicians have long mined a rich seam of inspiration from the constellations.
Springing readily to mind are albums like Dave Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, Pink Floyd’s ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’, Franz Joseph Haydn’s ‘Il Mondo della Luna’, Karlheinz Stockhausen’s ‘Sirius’ and Philip Glass’ ‘Einstein on the Beach’.
Sun Ra’s ‘Space is the Place’, Curtis Counce’s ‘Exploring the Future’ and Duke Ellington’s ‘The Cosmic Scene’, also open up improvisational vistas which are pleasing to the ear.
In a year commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon mission, Cypriot jazz fusion guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, Okan Ersan, hits all the right notes and affords us the opportunity to ponder a little more deeply on mankind’s place in the universe.
With ‘Nibiru’, Okan carries us on a musical exploration of the mythical planet discovered by the ancient Sumerians, predicted to be hurtling toward a catastrophic collision with planet earth.
Over the course of Nibiru’s seven tracks, Okan and his excellent sidemen (drummer Volkan Oktem, bassist Eylem Pelit and pianist Serkan Ozyilmaz) attempt to distil the wisdom of the prescient Annunaki people, with each composition telling a different story about outer space.
Ümit İnatçı’s cover design depicts a visual arrangement of musical sounds from the depth of universe and remote past.
Lyric pictograms represent the cosmogonic reflection between the micro and macro cosmos.
The album projects a filmic feel, fuelled by jazz fusion, echoing greats like Scott Henderson, Alan Holdsworth, Jeff Beck and Frank Gambale.
‘Wow Signal’ suggests the use of morse code and the translation of a reference for the unknown signal “6EQUJ5”; Okan has produced a unique motif for the whole piece. He has also incorporated NASA recordings of space, blended with open harmonies and solid tonality.
The album’s other cuts feature Okan’s interpretation of the physical phenomena of space and our links to them. ‘As far away as possible’ tells the story of light in space and how scientists use this to calculate light years. ‘Deep Field’ is an interpretation of visuals of a small region of the constellation Ursa Major, taken from the Hubble Deep Field. ‘Gravitational Waves’ sounds like gravity recordings – and artfully plaits together jazz harmony and rock sounds.
Indeed, compared to the funk-jazz grooves on his previous albums, ‘A Reborn Journey’ and ‘To Whom It May Concern’, Nibiru carries strong jazz-rock sensibilities.
Okan gives insights into his eclectic approach:
“I believe my approach is determined by my location in the world. I am influenced by my country’s rich history from the Ottomans to the British and the Venetians – these are my roots, and as a person, I reflect all of these ancestral antecedents. Cyprus is the intersection of a number of cultures and musical genres – it demonstrates a perfect ‘fade in and fade out’ from West to East. My biggest challenge was finding the optimum meeting point for the mathematical rules of Eastern and Western music, while ensuring that neither lost their human essence, for example, in “Istanbul Without Midnight”, “Mediterranean Breeze” and “Quantimizing Myself” from my ‘A Reborn Journey album’.”
Okan (whose sibling is the acclaimed Cypriot jazz bassist Oytun Ersan) has headlined at prestigious International Jazz festivals including Leverkusener Jazztage, Penang Island JazzFestival, Nanjing Jazz, Kansas City Jazz Festival, Carthage Jazztage, Aalener Jazz Festival, Ingolstadt Jazztage, to name a few.
He has collaborated with a range of acclaimed artists such as Dave Weckl, Ernie Watts, Billy Paul, Rex Richardson, Fazıl Say, and Joe Lynn Turner.
Okan Ersan’s Mediterranean roots and mindset have provided the impetus for a successful international career as a guitarist and composer.
With a solid thematic album like Nibiru, you could say he is now quite the jazz star.
On the outer space-inspired concept album Nibiru (named after the mythical planet) his jazz fusion quartet cooks a quite a solar storm. Each of the seven chapters charts a musical narrative related to its respective celestial theme. The album also incorporates some NASA space samples as heard at the start of the opener “Chapter I: 6EQUJ5 (Wow Signal)” in which Ersan cannily used Morse code to translate the reference for the unknown signal “6EQUJ5.”
The overall feel of the dramatic fast-paced piece is reminiscent of Allan Holdsworth at his most lyrical, and Holdsworth springs to mind even more with Ersan’s incendiary solo break on “Chapter III: Deep Field,” an interpretation of visual phenomena within the small region of the constellation Ursa Major, taken from the Hubble Deep Field (HDF) observed by the Hubble Space Telescope. But it’s not all sound and fury as “Chapter V: Transcending” will attest. The focus here is the portrayal of the travel of energy from the body and its return back to the universe. There’s a sense of pastoral floating with Ersan evincing some delicately understated glissando adornments. The title track relates to a mythical outer planet within our solar system and additionally is inspired by a signal received in 1977 that is believed to be the first ever transmission from outer space. Whilst Ersan introduces this harmony-rich number with elegant harmonics, each member of the quartet executes a solo to represent salutations from Nibiru to Earth. Once again there’s more fluid and tasteful Holdsworthian shredding from Ersan.
The second part of the title of the final track (Anunnaki) relates to The Anunnaki, a group of deities who appeared in the mythological traditions of the ancient Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, and Babylonians. The music here reflects the chaotic Space Jungle through which the Anunnaki supposedly travelled in their quest for an element to save their planet Nibiru. But here, as with the staccato-laden “Chapter IV: Gravitational Waves,” the group sounds more like jazz fusion pioneers Brand X, an electrifyingly dynamic beat propelling the piece along. In this taut and compositionally imaginative forty minute outing, Ersan has produced a remarkably intelligent and perfectly executed suite of exciting jazz fusion. He is undoubtedly a musician who needs to be heard more widely.
By DENNIS WINGE – jazzguitar.com September 5, 2019
When I first heard that the album was centered around celebrating extra-terrestrial life-forms and that the first track inspired by the first alien contact with Earth, I was wondering whether “Nibiru” would be very abstract and inaccessible. I was very pleasantly surprised to find it, overall, to be adventurous and accessible simultaneously.
In fact, the first track “Wow Signal” uses the Morse-code translation of the signal as the rhythmic motive of the tune, but the other elements of the tune are very accessible as it is in 4/4 and the melody is logical and coherent. I only wished that both the guitar and keyboard solos (played by Okan Ersan and Serkan Ozyilmaz, respectively) were longer. Notwithstanding, the track seemed a promising start to the album.
The second track “As Far Away As Possible” has a simple melody that is kept interesting by the album’s wonderful percussionist Volkan Oktem. The tune gives the soloists a chance to stretch a bit more. Ersan himself has a nice clear tone that blends rock and jazz in a way that the word “fusion” doesn’t always connote.
From there, “Deep Field” uses alien sounds from the keyboards as the intro, and after some syncopated figures, the guitarist tastefully uses open voicings that complement the keyboard very well before the melody is introduced. The melody hints at something more expansive but is also down-to-Earth and friendly-sounding. The solos use chromaticism without overdoing it and they both build well. Similarly, the harmony is interesting and accessible as well.
Track 4, “Gravitational Waves,” which begins with funky syncopated rhythms, combines the best elements of rhythm and texture, and the overall sound blends jazz, fusion, new age, and even heavier rock and metal. The keyboardist is consistently adventurous on all his solos, and Ersan himself rips an effect-heavy solo as well on this track, but I again wished it were simply longer.
On “Transcending,” Okan Ersan showcases a more tender side to the quartet. The rhythm section is quite tasteful, especially bassist Eylem Pelit, whose super warm and rounded sound wonderfully supports the entire album. The slower tempo allows Ersan and Ozyilmaz to access their jazz roots.
The title track “Nibiru” is another example of how the tracks combine pleasant melodies, syncopated rhythmic hits, and well-constructed harmony. The track features a melodic bass solo which builds nicely, followed by a short, moody keyboard solo, and then a guitar solo which quickly builds and leads the band back to the out-head. “Space Jungle – Anunnaki” is the 7th and final track. It uses a really great alien-type effect on the guitar solo.
The new release from Okan Ersan is definitely worth checking out and has a nice balance between the adventurous and abstract elements as well as the best elements of jazz fusion: ripping solos, nice melodies, and logical but interesting harmonies. Ersan also plays keyboard on the album and perhaps that is a contributing factor as to why I also felt that the guitar solo on many of the tracks was too short. Perhaps when the band plays live, the musicians stretch more. Hopefully the quartet will make the rounds to many countries and cities around the world on a tour to support the album. I look forward to buying a ticket when they come to a town near me.