Feb 26, 2010 Uncategorized
Turtle Island Quartet marks its 25th year with Hendrix tribute
by Paul Liberatore
Posted: 02/25/2010 10:24:12 PM PST
When I heard that the Turtle Island Quartet was celebrating its 25th anniversary by recording an album of Jimi Hendrix and Hendrix-inspired songs, I thought it was a cool idea – if they could pull it off.
So I went to hear them play four Hendrix tunes from the 1968 album “Electric Ladyland” the other night at a house concert in Novato. And they pulled it off all right – in spades.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise. These guys have been redefining the public perception of the string quartet since cellist Mark Summer and violinist David Balakrishnan formed the group in 1985.
They’ve been the first string ensemble to successfully integrate jazz improvisation and rhythm into the classical aesthetic, reimagining folk, bluegrass, swing, be-bop, funk, R&B, New Age, rock, even hip-hop.
“They have changed the way we think of the string quartet in America today,” Mike Marshall, a great string player in his own right, told an audience of family and friends who had gathered in the living room of Summer’s comfortable home this past Saturday evening. “They bring groove to the string quartet.”
The Turtles, as they are sometimes affectionately known, won a Grammy Award for best classical crossover album for their last CD, 2007′s “A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane.”
In 2006, they won in the same crossover category for “4+Four,” an album with the Ying Quartet that features Summer’s much-covered “Julie-O,” a composition that incorporates the percussive techniques (including slapping the cello rhythmically with his hands) that has earned him a reputation as a trailblazer on his instrument.
When Balakrishnan introduced him the other night, he called him “our cellist and drummer.”
After living in Oakland for 17 years, the trim 51-year-old bought a house in a horsey neighborhood in Novato with his wife, Barbara, art director for Acoustic Guitar magazine in San Anselmo, and moved in four months ago.
“I always wondered, ‘How in the world does a musician buy a house in Marin?’” he told me before the concert. “Now I know how you do it.”
Yeah, you pay your dues for a quarter century, win a couple of Grammys and perform, record and tour with extraordinary colleagues like Marshall, who brought a superstar aura to the proceedings the other night, joining the ensemble on mandocello, playing big chunky chords in a rollicking rendition of “All Along the Watch Tower,” a tune slated for the new record.
The informal evening was a chance to rehearse in front of an appreciative live audience before going into Skywalker Sound in Nicasio this week to record the new album, “Have You Ever Been,” the title taken from the late guitarist’s song that begins: “Have you ever been to Electric Ladyland?”
In addition to Marshall, Stefon Harris, a new generation vibraphonist the Los Angeles Times called “one of the most important young artists in jazz,” was also at Skywalker this week to guest on the Hendrix classic “Gypsy Eyes.”
On the new album, set to be released in August on the Telarc label, Summer will have his own showcase – a solo rendition of “Little Wing,” which Hendrix wrote in 1967 and is ranked number 357 on Rolling Stone magazine’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
He confesses to being somewhat intimidated, covering such an iconic guitar piece, but he brought his own house down, so to speak, when he played it for the folks in his living room using the show-stopping percussive style he’s developed in Turtle Island.
“There are lots of different ways to create rhythm, and that’s what this group has spent a lot of time figuring out: How do you create rhythm on a violin, a viola and a cello?” he said. “Because of the cello’s size and similarity to a bass, you can do a lot of neat things with it. You can hit the fingerboard and get a woodblock sound. You can pluck it like a bass or strum it like a guitar.”
From the beginning, he said, “It just seemed to demand that I make a lot of noise if we were going to play anything approaching rock music.”
The original Turtle Island included the celebrated violinist Darol Anger and many fine players have passed through over the decades. In the current lineup, Summer and Balakrishnan are joined by violinists Mads Tolling and Jeremy Kittel, both in their 20s.
“What’s exciting for us is that the two founding members are in our 50s, and then we’ve got two guys who are admittedly young enough to be our sons,” Summer said with a grin. “They represent the next generation. They’ve learned a lot from us, and we get their energy and vitality.”
Turtle Island doesn’t often play in Marin. But on March 27, the quartet will be at the Dance Palace in Point Reyes Station.
At this stage in his career, Summer is doing pretty much what he set out to do after he quit the Winnipeg Symphony and drove across the continent to the Bay Area in a Ford Fiesta without air conditioning to join the ensemble that would become Turtle Island, the name taken from the Pulitzer Prize-winning poem by Gary Snyder.
“I wanted to rock out and play Chick Corea,” he told me, saying the music he’s making now is “the logical outcome of someone who grew up listening to the Beatles, wanted to be a rock player and a singer-songwriter and also spent a lot of time learning the Bach Cello Suites. I’m pretty happy with what I’ve done.”
IF YOU GO
- What: Turtle Island Quartet
- When: 8 p.m. March 27
- Where: Dance Palace, Fifth and B streets, Point Reyes Station
- Tickets: $28 to $30
- Information: 663-1075, www.dancepalace.org
Contact Paul Liberatore via e-mail at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LibLarge
Feb 26, 2010 Uncategorized
By Bret Saunders
Posted: 02/21/2010 01:00:00 AM MST
February 21, 2010
The Turtle Island String Quartet with their trophy during the Grammy Awards in 2006.
The Turtle Island Quartet celebrates 25 years as a group in 2010, but it’s only in the past few years that they’ve received the accolades owed to them since the ’80s.
What sets them apart from other classically oriented string bands is the remarkable lightness in their sense of swing and a playfulness that lends itself to jazz and folk music. The San Francisco-based group could be considered the less-serious sibling of the better-known Kronos Quartet. Turtle Island doesn’t possess the avant-garde credentials of Kronos, but its members would seem more comfortable in the world of John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie interpretations, and that’s saying a lot.
Turtle Island will re-create music from its latest Grammy-winning CD, “A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane” at the Lakewood Cultural Center on Saturday, and collaborate with the Luna Negra Dance Theater and saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera at CU’s Macky Auditorium on Feb. 28. The programs will be completely different from one night to the next, but it’s all part of the great continuum, according to violinist and co-founding member David Balakrishnan.
“We decided that we would be a quartet that would reflect the music of America, and jazz is America’s classical music,” he said. “And Coltrane is the Stravinsky of jazz.” “There’s his (saxophone) voice. I fell in love with that spiritual cry, that expressivity and genius at the same time. And ‘A Love Supreme’ was his statement.”
You would expect that a performer who relays that much enthusiasm about another artist to give a respectful performance of that artist’s work, and that’s precisely what Balakrishnan and Turtle Island do with “A Love Supreme.” They gently dig into the essence of that classic recording and come up with a shortened, more accessible version of the original album that could carry fans of classical music over to the jazz side of things.
Balakrishnan is equally thrilled about performing with D’Rivera for the Boulder performance.
“Paquito’s a kindred soul,” he said. “He has one foot in jazz and the other in classical. And he’s found a way to integrate those tradition.”
“And he dances.”
After taking up the Coltrane mantle, the Turtle Island Quartet (they dropped “String” from their name in the ’00s) will head into the studio before their Colorado performances to record a tribute to rock guitar god Jimi Hendrix, including interpretations from his “Electric Ladyland” album.
“That was his ‘Love Supreme.’ He was a great creative mind of American music, with a stamp of psychedelic.”
The Turtle Island Quartet plays at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Lakewood Cultural Center, 470 S. Allison Parkway. Tickets are $20-$28. Call 303-987-7845. Then, at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 28, the quartet, along with Luna Negra Dance Theater and Paquito D’Rivera, performs at Macky Auditorium, 17th Street and University Avenue, Boulder. Tickets are $12-$52. Call 303-492-8008.
. Bret Saunders’ column on jazz appears every other Sunday in A&E. Saunders is host of the “KBCO Morning Show,” 5:30-10 a.m. weekdays at 97.3-FM. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Turtle Island Quartet to Record Hendrix Tribute The string group picked Hendrix tracks to celebrate its 25th anniversary
Feb 15, 2010 Uncategorized
by Aubrey Everett
Turtle Island Quartet to Record Hendrix Tribute
The string group picked Hendrix tracks to celebrate its 25th anniversary
By Aubrey Everett
The musically diverse and award winning Turtle Island Quartet have chosen a unique way to celebrate its 25th anniversary this month by recording a Jimi Hendrix-inspired album titled Have You Ever Been… (Telarc). The group, joined by Stefon Harris and Mike Marshall, will step into the Skywalker Sound studio in California from Feb. 22-25 to lay down the tracks.
In addition to four Hendrix songs off of the 1968 album Electric Ladyland including “Gypsy Eyes”, the group will also revisit compositions that are reflective of and inspired by the late performer. The Turtle Island Quartet is made up of violinists David Balakrishnan and Mads Tolling, cellist Mark Summer and violist Jeremy Kittel. The group will continue celebrating their 25th anniversary throughout their 2010/2011 touring schedule. For dates and more information on the group visit Turtle Island Quartet.
Visiting other musical genres is not new for Turtle Island Quartet, who have explored folk, bluegrass, swing, be-bop, funk, R&B, new age, rock, and hip-hop over the years. But this time the group—whose string instrumentalists often work within the confines of jazz and classical—is taking on a unique challenge by tackling the seminal work of an electric guitarist.
The album will include an original Balakrishnan composition that was largely influenced by Hendrix called “Tree of Life.” The solo string quartet version in four movements is adapted from the large form version which included dance, theater and spoken word. The track explores the longstanding controversy that Darwin’s theory of evolution sparked between religion and science. The Turtle Island Quartet, founded by Balakrishnan and Summer in 1985, derived its own name from creation mythology found in Native American Folklore.
“I was so deeply influenced by Hendrix as a kid, in fact it is what inspired me to get ‘off the page’ so to speak,” said Balakrishnan in a press release. “‘Tree of Life’ provides a nice sub theme of Have You Ever Been…. Plus, it is strongly conceived through composed music that will serve as an anchor to balance the freer, more pop-styled nature of the Hendrix material.”
The album’s version of “Gypsy Eyes” will feature Harris on vibes, and Balakrishnan’s “All Along the Watchtower” will showcase Marshall, a long-time Turtle Island Quartet collaborator, on the mandolin. The record will also feature a solo cello rendition of Hendrix’s “Little Wing” by Summer, and “To Bop Or Not To Be” by English jazz fusion guitarist and composer John McLaughlin.
The album coincides with the anticipated release of previously-unavailable Hendrix masters, the re-launch of the Hendrix catalogue by Legacy Recordings and the Experience Hendrix Tour, all of which debut this year.
Feb 3, 2010 Uncategorized
IN THE STUDIO: TURTLE ISLAND QUARTET CELEBRATES
25TH ANNIVERSARY WITH JIMI HENDRIX-INSPIRED RECORDING
Award-Winning Quartet Joined By Special Guests Stefon Harris, Mike Marshall
Through their exploration of folk, bluegrass, swing, be-bop, funk, R&B, new age, rock, and hip-hop, Turtle Island Quartet has taken its audiences on a journey through many musical genres, eras, and places – the American landscape, Latin America, Europe, and India to name a few. Now the Grammy®-winning quartet ventures to Electric Ladyland with their new project Have You Ever Been…, to be recorded at the Skywalker Sound studio from February 22-25. Turtle Island Quartet will tackle works by legendary guitarist, songwriter and performer Jimi Hendrix, but also other compositions reflective of and inspired by Hendrix’s music including TIQ founder David Balakrishnan’s new composition “Tree of Life.”
The innovative, boundary-breaking string instrumentalists of Turtle Island Quartet are meeting a unique challenge by taking on a great pioneer of the electric guitar. Although music from the psychedelic 1960s may seem like an unusual choice for a string quartet known best for their improvisational line-blurring between the worlds of jazz and classical, Hendrix himself was known for blending blues, rock, R&B and even jazz in his music.
In addition to a suite of four Hendrix pieces taken from his seminal Electric Ladyland album, Have You Ever Been… (Telarc, instores August 2010) will also include Ladyland’s “Gypsy Eyes,” reimagined by the Turtle Island Quartet with vibist Stefon Harris, and “All Along the Watchtower” with mandolinist Mike Marshall, a long-time TIQ collaborator. A master of the mandolin, guitar and violin, Marshall is touring the “Crossroads” program with the quartet this year, and will join them for their Silver Anniversary tour next season. As with many of the quartet’s recordings, Have You Ever Been… will also feature a solo cello rendition of Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” by co-founder/cellist Mark Summer.
Among the works on the album inspired by Hendrix include “To Bop Or Not To Be” by English jazz fusion guitarist/composer John McLaughlin, who famously jammed with Hendrix the year before he died and whom he cites as a huge influence, Hendrix’s version of “Hey Joe” gets a slower, more ballad-like treatment but still with a rock beat, and the premiere recording of “Tree Of Life,” a piece largely influenced by Hendrix and composed by Balakrishnan.
“I was so deeply influenced by Hendrix as a kid, in fact it is what inspired me to get ‘off the page’ so to speak,” states Balakrishnan, who founded Turtle Island Quartet in 1985. He explains that this influence has made its way into his own compositions, most notably incorporating the “Hendrix chord” (7th sharp 9) into many of his original works.
The solo string quartet version of “Tree Of Life” in four movements is an adaptation of the large form version for string quartet and symphonic wind ensemble, which included multi-disciplinary forces such as dance, theatre, spoken word and video technology in its exploration of the longstanding controversy that Darwin’s theory of evolution sparked – namely, the spirit world versus the natural world, religion versus science. Since the Turtle Island Quartet derived its own name from creation mythology found in Native American Folklore, the inclusion of this particular original composition on this recording sets Turtle Island Quartet apart from being mere interpreters of classic works, but innovators and contributors to the canon themselves.
“‘Tree of Life’ provides a nice sub theme of Have You Ever Been…?” Balakrishnan continues. “Plus, it is strongly conceived through composed music that will serve as an anchor to balance the freer, more pop-styled nature of the Hendrix material.”
The quartet’s timing couldn’t be better, with the anticipated release of previously-unavailable Hendrix masters, the relaunch of the Hendrix catalogue by Legacy Recordings, and the Experience Hendrix Tour all launching in 2010.
The Turtle Island Quartet – violinists David Balakrishnan and Mads Tolling, cellist Mark Summer and violist Jeremy Kittel – will continue their regular touring schedule throughout the 2010/11 concert season, celebrating their 25th anniversary.
For dates and more information on the Turtle Island Quartet, visit www.turtleislandquartet.com.