Mar 22, 2010 Uncategorized
March 20, 2010
Concert review: Turtle Island String Quartet doesn’t disappoint in Jazz Fest return
By Susan L. Peña
Reading, PA – The Turtle Island String Quartet returned to the Berks Jazz Fest, having performed here several times; this time they brought with them the eminent jazz pianist, Cyrus Chestnut—a collaboration made in heaven.
Their performance Saturday night at Reading Area Community College’s Miller Center for the Arts bore all the hallmarks of a Turtle Island performance: the clean, well-blended sound, poised exactly between a classical string quartet and a jazz ensemble, with the cello, plucked and strummed, substituting for a bass; wonderful arrangements and original compositions; and tasty solos galore.
Founders David Balakrishnan (violin) and Mark Summer (cello) have found two perfect partners for this incarnation of the group: Danish violinist Mads Tolling and the newest member, violist Jeremy Kittel.
Chestnut, a bear of a man with the lightest, most beautiful touch on the keys, brought his trademark economical, sharply accented style and sure-fingered, inventive solos to the mix, making this a memorable concert.
The quartet opened with a new piece from their latest CD, “To Bop or Not to Be,” which chugged along like a train underneath exotic, complex melodies. Chestnut joined them for a piano quintet rendition of John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice,” showing a nice combination of talent and proclivities.
Chestnut began “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” with a soft, meditative introduction; the strings joined him for variations, including an amazing solo by Kittel and a lovely one by Tolling.
The quartet’s group-written “King Rudolph the Mighty” followed, with the piano opening in classical style and a jazzy, slightly humorous main theme.
“Milestones,” from the Miles Davis album of the same title, started with plucked violins and viola, joined by the bowed cello; Chestnut inserted judicious punctuation, and then the piece took off, with solos by Kittel and Chestnut.
Chestnut had one solo all to himself — a hymn-like tune which he built lovingly, with subtle, lyrical playing throughout.
All five gave a breezy treatment to Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy,” then played Chestnut’s composition, “Cerebral Thoughts,” including a haunting section with just viola, cello and piano, and a piano solo like sparkling water.
They finished with pieces from Duke Ellington’s “Sacred Concert,” given in the late 1960s, combining gospel, jazz and klezmer influences and including a speech about freedom (delivered here by Chestnut). Summer’s solo, accompanied by piano and Balakrishnan on violin, was exceptional.
Their encore was an old-timey “Down By the Riverside,” delivered with a nice, strolling gait and solos by everyone, fading away to a trickle.
Contact Susan L. Peña at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mar 22, 2010 Uncategorized
The Washington Post
Luna Negra Dance Theater at Strathmore
By Rebecca J. Ritzel
Monday, March 22, 2010; C05
If the arts ever recover from this recession, pray that more dance companies make performing with live music a priority. Until then? Seek out and savor nights like Friday, when Luna Negra Dance Theater unveiled a commission from Strathmore. In a collaboration to remember, the Chicago troupe shared the stage with the Turtle Island Quartet and jazz clarinet legend Paquito D’Rivera.
Since 1999, Luna Negra (“Black Moon” in Spanish) has elegantly fused Latin and modern dance traditions with pointed humor and stellar technique. Last August, founder Eduardo Vilaro left the company to take the helm of New York’s Ballet Hispanico. As a parting gift, he saw his collaboration with the quartet and D’Rivera through to the end.
“Danzón” opens with a Latin jazz overture, and when the dancers come onstage, it’s as if a Havana nightclub floor has been cleared just for them. Vilaro’s choreography is mostly interpretive, memorable more as a scene than sequence of movement. The finale is a sublime mashup of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts” and “Night in Tunisia.” When D’Rivera came out onto the floor to scat, dancer Hamilton Nieh shimmied along as his duet partner. Likewise, during the lengthy final violin cadenza, the men took turns performing improvised solos. The other four musicians onstage watched in awe. So did the audience.
“Danzón” was the center jewel on a program that opened with Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s 2009 work “Nube Blanco” and closed with Vilaro’s 2005 classic “Quinceañera.” “Nube Blanco” translates as “White Cloud,” a clever reference to the female dancers’ puffy crinoline skirts. Up top, they wore nothing but black bras overlaid with netting. The whole piece is a postmodern flamenco, a saucy, stomping romp.
“Quinceañera,” by contrast, is all about awkward innocence. Vilaro reconstructs the memories many Latinas share of their 15th birthdays — a blur of hormones and puffy, pink dresses — and creates the perfect coming-of-age ballet. With less skilled performers, the result would be a silly mess, but Luna Negra’s dancers are also convincing actors. This was the ideal evening of dance to attract a broad audience, so it was disappointing that the house wasn’t sold out and the crowd more diverse. Strathmore deserves all the praise in the world for staging “Danzón.”
Next time, hopefully, the center will be a little more savvy with its marketing.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.
OUT OF THEIR SHELL Turtle Island String Quartet takes the art of improvisation to new heights with Coltrane concert
Mar 13, 2010 Uncategorized
OUT OF THEIR SHELL
Turtle Island String Quartet takes the art of improvisation to new heights with Coltrane concert
Friday, March 12, 2010
By Chris Waddington
Can you snap your fingers and sway to a string quartet? Jazz purists and classical snobs used to laugh at the notion. Then, in 1985, the Turtle Island String Quartet began to do the unlikely, creating swinging, improvised music that incorporated delta blues, Indian ragas, Celtic fiddle techniques, be-bop harmonies and, yes, a bit of Franz Joseph Haydn — the witty, 18th century Austrian who established an enduring classical tradition by writing for two violins, a cello and a viola.
Along the way, Turtle Island has collected two Grammy Awards, won praise from superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma and collaborated with host of genre-busting artists, including jazz reedman Paquito D’Rivera, guitarist Leo Kottke, the Brazilian guitar duo of Sergio and Odair Assad, and the classically trained Ying Quartet.
Turtle Island will perform tonight at Loyola University, in a program drawn from their 2007 Telarc CD: “A Love Supreme: The Music of John Coltrane.”
“People love to create categories, to divide things into high and low art in order to claim superiority over others, but music is so innocent of that,” said Quartet founder David Balakrishnan. “When you look under the blanket, you’ll see that there have always been connections. That’s why a Bill Monroe bluegrass tune sounds eerily like a South Indian karnatic raga.”
The group also bridges a generational divide. Its founding members — violinist and composer Balakrishnan and cellist Mark Summer — are both in their 50s: Violist Jeremy Kittel and violinist Mads Tolling are still in their 20s.
“When we started, there wasn’t much precedent for the kind of cross-genre work that we do, but for the group’s younger members this kind of fusion seems like the most natural thing in the world,” Balakrishnan said. “IPods and the Internet have changed the musical landscape for young artists. They don’t have to do what I did growing up in Los Angeles. Back then, if I wanted to hear something different, it meant digging through record bins for obscure LPs.”
The Coltrane program at Loyola will show off the quartet’s most distinctive feature, Balakrishnan said. “All of us are improvisers and we approach Coltrane’s work that manner — not as classical players trying something new for a change. We’ve had Coltrane’s music echoing in our heads for years.”
On “A Love Supreme” — which earned a Grammy in 2008 — Balakrishnan’s deft arrangements suggest the propulsive force of Coltrane’s combos, and include transcriptions of the saxophonist’s incantatory solos. They also leave room for the four strings to unleash their own ideas.
On the recording, the music unfolds seamlessly, in fiery accounts that underscore the unique nature of the Turtle Island sound: bluegrass “chop” techniques, slap pizzicato, and passages in which the cellist conjures walking bass lines or drives home the rhythm by drumming on the body of his instrument.
“We sound different than any other string quartet,” Balakrishan said. “But for everything that’s new in our work, we’re also laying claim to something that was lost long ago. People forget that Bach and Beethoven were both improvisers, that early string players were expected to improvise, too. That’s exactly where the music is headed again.”
. . . . . . . .
Chris Waddington is a contributing writer to The Times-Picayune. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Turtle Island String Quartet
What: The Grammy-award-winning string ensemble will showcase the musical legacy of saxophonist John Coltrane — and its own, unique approach to improvisation.
Where: Roussel Hall, Loyola University, 6363 St. Charles Ave.
When: Tonight at 7:30.
Tickets: $25. Call 504.865.2074 or www.loyno.edu.
Mar 5, 2010 Uncategorized
Concert review: Turtle Island Quartet takes crossover jazz to new level
Published: Thursday, March 4, 2010 11:40 p.m. MST
TURTLE ISLAND QUARTET, de Jong Concert Hall, Brigham Young University, March 4
Jazz performed by a string quartet? At first glance the two would seem mutually exclusive — until Turtle Island Quartet showed the world how it could be done.
Turtle Island Quartet, which played at BYU Thursday, has taken the concept of crossover to a new level — infusing jazz playing with classical parameters and classical idioms with cutting edge jazz. The resulting mix is innovative, original and not easily imitated. Turtle Island Quartet is without question in a class by itself.
At Thursday’s concert the foursome — violinists David Balakrishnan and Mads Tolling; violist Jeremy Kittel; and cellist Mark Summer — exhibited amazing string technique and virtuosity. All four are impeccable classical artists and phenomenal jazz players. Summer in particular was a whirlwind with his instrument, playing things that were seemingly impossible until one saw him actually doing it.
“School of Miles,” the program that Turtle Island Quartet played, is an indirect tribute to jazz legend Miles Davis. The music on the program, arranged by Balakrishnan, was written by people who played in Davis’ various bands throughout his career. Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Stanley Clark and Herbie Hancock were all represented on the program. Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance” was especially lovely, with the foursome bringing a soft mellowness to the piece.
The group also played Balakrishnan’s “Lucy,” a beautifully haunting piece in its harmonies and emotional power and the collectively composed “Model Trane,” a tribute to John Coltrane.
The four also played a couple of pieces from their recently recorded CD, “Have You Ever Been,” which will be released this summer. The album pays tribute to Jimi Hendrix, and in Balakrishnan’s arrangements the string quartet sounded remarkably like Hendrix’s guitar riffs.