THE ELECTRIC GUITAR HAS NO BOUNDARIES FOR ENVER IZMAYLOV. The virtuoso musician of Crimean Tatar heritage (a Turkic ethnic group residing in Crimea, located on the northern coast of the Black Sea) is a legendary performer in the Ukraine and Russia. He’s renowned for using his dazzling tapping technique—sometimes along with brilliant EBow manipulations and effects processing—to bridge jazz, pop, and classical influences with Crimean Tatar, Balkan, and Turkish folk music.
Izmaylov has a deep discography focusing on solo guitar recordings and intimate duo and trio efforts featuring players such as flautist/saxophonist Geoff Warren and percussion master Burhan Ocal. His latest release, River of Time [JRC], however, is an ambitious, bigger production that combines his guitar approach and multi-genre focus with a world of effusive, percolating rhythms, and even a healthy dose of driving rock.
What is the concept behind River of Time?
It represents my desire to showcase the capabilities of the guitar as something that can reflect the music of different nations. My interest in uniting Eastern, Asian, and Western sounds is inspired by my love for the cuisines of these regions. The album focuses on modern jazz-rock arrangements featuring straight electric guitar, as well as guitar with a variety of effects.
Why did you decide to focus on tapping?
I’ve been playing guitar since I was 14. I played a lot of ’70s jazz, rock, pop, and folk music using traditional techniques, and then God suggested the idea of my tapping style, which I developed through a lot of hard work. With my technique, I can play bass, accompaniment, and solos simultaneously on the neck. It’s a piano-like approach that offers limitless technical and sonic opportunities as a performer and a composer.
You also play in some very unusual alternate tunings.
I have two of my own: [low to high] E, B, E, E, B, E and C, C, G, C, C, C. I use these tunings to help convey the characteristics of the folk music I explore.
Describe Crimean Tatar traditional music for the uninitiated.
The Crimean Tatars’ music is very rich. It is very multi-tonal and polyrhythmic with time signatures such as 5/8, 7/8, 9/8, 11/8, and 13/8. The music is also deeply philosophical and reflects epochs dating back to ancient times. There are similarities to the music of countries of the Balkan Peninsula, including Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Romania, and Turkey. It can be lively and merry, as well as melancholic.
What is your typical signal chain?
My main guitars are a Godin Multiac Jazz and a Yamaha SG-2000. The Godin has a silverleaf maple neck and center, with poplar wings and an ebony fretboard. It has both a Godin GJN1 humbucker and a hex pickup that feeds my Roland GR-20 guitar synth, which I use for things such as sitar sounds. The Yamaha has a mahogany body with an arched maple top, a maple/mahogany neck with an ebony fretboard, and two Alnico V SGH-1SOB humbuckers. In addition, I use the Roland VG-99 V-Guitar System. From there, I go into my Laney Lionheart L20T410 combo amplifier. I’ll also use my Kustom DE200 bass amplifier if I want to create a heavy bass sound.
You also have a custom triple-neck guitar.
Yes. It was built by Sergey Krolichenkoy, Aleksey Vasilets, Igor Tsishkovsky, and Vladimir Radchenko, who are all master luthiers from Kiev in the Ukraine. The guitar is called the Avaks Enver-Travel and it is actually a combination of three separate guitars equipped with separate outputs and special locks that allow me to fit them together in any sequence. I named each guitar after a member of my family: my wife Mevide, and my daughters Gulmira and Leniye. There are two Steinberger-like headless, fretted guitars constructed of sapele with maple/bubinga necks. One has a wenge fretboard, and is fitted with Seymour Duncan Mini Humbucker neck and DiMarzio Air Zone bridge pickups. The other has a walnut fretboard and Ibanez pickups. The third guitar is an ordinary 4-string bass with a rosewood fretboard and a P-Bass pickup. The ability to use my tapping technique across these different-sounding instruments lets me create and perform some really interesting and colorful compositions.
What inspired you to cover Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” together with your vocalist daughter Leniye Izmailov on her Traveling by Crimea CD?
In my youth, I really liked Deep Purple and played their music a lot. I wanted to reassess my view of “Smoke on the Water” by using tapping to play it. My hope is that we brought something new to it and didn’t mar that great composition. What I like about the tune is that it’s accessible and appealing to all guitarists regardless of age, skin color, and religion.