Inquiring Minds

Tonight: Painted on Water's Evocative Turkish Jazz at Meridian

Rocks Off knows the humidity make it feel like it sometimes, but if Houston were Istanbul, Painted on Water would be playing Toyota Center this evening. The Turkish duo's eponymous CD showed up on our desks a while back without a clue to their background - turns out singer Sertab Erener is like the Mariah Carey, or maybe Diana Krall, of Turkey - (she's very popular) or what they sounded like.

We're glad we did - it's a languid palette of sophisticated modern jazz, Steely Dan or Santana-like rock and mysterious echoes of far-off shores. Many, many years ago, we're sure, Erener's sultry, flirtatious vocals could have charmed the sultan right out of his kingdom. Rocks Off spoke with Painted on Water's other half, guitarist and songwriter Demir Demirkan, last week as the duo was gearing up for its trip to Houston and tonight's show at Meridian.

Rocks Off: Where did that name come from?

Demir Demirkan: The name actually comes from the art, ebru. I don't know if you've ever heard of it. Actually the artist paints on oiled water, and then prints that painting on some kind of special paper.

It also has a kind of deeper philosophical meaning - the impermanence of life. I guess that would be the closest way to explain it. If you paint something on the water, you know it's just gonna stay for a while and then just kind of disappear.

RO: Why did you choose it as the title for this project?

DD: There's a song called "Painted on Water" on the album, a ballad with piano and cello. We have a live artist at some of the shows that's actually doing the ebru art at the same time we're playing so it's kind of synchronized, and it's reflected at the back of the stage on a screen. We wanted to get the whole idea visually, with the music, to the shows. We're doing a show here on the second and we're going to have that ebru artist with us, but I don't think we can carry her all the way through the tour this time (laughs).

RO: What are the roots of your musical partnership, and also this album in particular?

DD: We've been working together for more than ten years now. I've been producing her records and writing her songs, and we actually have many hits she sings on back home, and also a European hit in 2003 that she's on called "Every Way That I Can." It was also a Eurovision winner. Are you clued into the Eurovision Song Contest?

RO: I'm familiar with it.

DD: In 2003 we won. I wrote the song and produced it, and Sertab sang, and it was a winner. So it was a very big thing for Turkey, and a big hit all over Europe, South America and Japan. We're also partners, you know. She's my girlfriend, so we're very used to working together. We decided on this project I'd do most of the writing and producing and guitar playing and she does the singing, and that's basically how it spread out.

The root of the music [on Painted on Water] comes from the Anatolian folk songs. We took some elements - sometimes some phrases, some melodies and most of the time some rhythmic elements and some harmonic elements - and applied [them] to modern instrumentation like contemporary drums and bass guitar and guitar. We wanted to inject the whole Anatolian musical idea into Western music. It's not like adding together one plus one equals two - more like one plus one equals a different one.

RO: Tell me a little more about how you found the musical common ground between these Anatolian folk songs and Western pop and jazz.

DD: Basically, we've been hearing folk tunes, Anatolian, Turkish and let's say Middle Eastern music all through the time we were growing up. Sertab is classically trained; she's an opera-trained singer. I've studied in Los Angeles and I play rock. Back home, we don't really play authentic Turkish music. We're really used to the Western standards of music. But on the other hand, Antolian music, if you analyze it, it's not harmonically developed.

You don't have chords and polyphony, you know what I mean? You don't have two instruments playing different sounds. Everyone plays the same melody at the same time. Because of technical reasons, it's called just intonation. Western music developed in such a way that, you know, they can harmonize the whole thing. So what I try to do is I took that monophony, and I actually had to harmonize the whole folk-song idea.

I wanted to really, really keep the whole authentic idea behind those melodies, but still, if you put harmonies under it and play the whole thing with modern instruments, you feel it, but you don't really hear it.

7 p.m. at Meridian, 1503 Chartres, 713-225-1717 or See more about Painted on Water on the group's MySpace page.
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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray