Burhan Ocal is widely recognized as one of the world's most virtuosic percussionists. But the Turkish drummer, who specializes in playing the goblet-shaped darbuka, waited until the second half of his concert at the Cerritos Center on Monday to display the extraordinary range of his talent.
He did so in a purely solo presentation. Seated on stage alone, the darbuka on his lap, with a pair of microphones picking up every nuance of his fast-fingered playing, he was a virtual one-man percussion orchestra. Tapping, scraping, banging with the heels of his hands, flicking his fingernails against the drumhead, he generated an astounding array of sounds, from tiny animal footsteps to a storm in progress.
Ocal's solo performance was beyond genre, a compelling exhibit of percussive pyrotechnics exploding far beyond his identity as a proponent of Turkish musical heritage. The balance of the set, in which he played with the five-man Istanbul Oriental Ensemble, was more focused on this latter aspect of his creative interests.
The selections were largely chosen from the last three centuries, a period in which Turkish music began to assume its own identity, separate from previously dominant Arabic and Persian influences. The multitalented Ocal sang a few of the pieces, but he clearly preferred to place the music, with its piquant modal melodies and shifting rhythms, front and center.
He was aided in the quest by stirring solos from the Ensemble: clanging note streams from Tenel Savas Ozkok's kanun (zither); the suave violin phrasing of Volkan Gumuslu; Emre Demir's warm-toned oud; Savas Zurnaci's high-flying clarinet lines; and fiery drumming from the group's other darbuka player, Kaan Sehirkahyasioglu.