Oct 25, 2010 Uncategorized
State of Mind
Turtle Island Quartet – Have You Ever Been…? [Telarc]
by Doug Collette
October 22, 2010
Turtle Island Quartet – Have You Ever Been…?
It’s rare for any music lover to discover something like Turtle Island String Quartet’s tribute to Jimi Hendrix. Have You Ever Been…? wouldn’t seem to work in concept, but in execution it is a sublime pleasure.
Epiphanies come early and often on this disc. On the title song, Turtle Island reveals ever so clearly how the inner pieces of the composition play off each other. And that’s not to mention how the playing brings out the bittersweet, as well as the sense of adventure, in the song.
Inviting vibist Stefon Harris to join in on “Gypsy Eyes” was a brilliant move. His instrument adds to the ethereal quality of the music as the group renders it. Likewise, Mike Marshall’s turn on mandocello during “All Along the Watchtower” elevates the sense of flight in Dylan’s composition along with the air of impending doom Hendrix brought to his recording.
“House Burning Down” sounds like it was actually written with an instrumental lineup like TIQ in mind–or at least David Balakrishnan & Co make it sound that way. While the bulk of the near seventy minutes here is devoted to music written and/or recorded by Jimi Hendrix–including the brave choice of “1983…A Merman I Should Choose to Be” from Electric Ladyland — the group also navigates an extended piece of its violinist/composer/leader: based on Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species, “Tree of Life” is both mysterious and poignant but, most importantly, of a piece with the remainder of the material.
Have You Ever Been…? also includes one other complementary piece, “To Bop or Not to Be” by John McLaughlin, an avid admirer of both Hendrix and the broadly eclectic kind of music Turtle Island plays. Sandwiched in between the music of the late guitar icon and TIQ’s leader, it adds even more color and action to a wholly vibrant piece of work.
Oct 21, 2010 Uncategorized
Turtle Island Quartet to perform works of Jimi Hendrix at Lucas Theatre on Friday
October 21, 2010
By Kenda Williams
It’s not often that an audience can hear a classical string quartet play the works of rock legend Jimi Hendrix with creativity, precision and respect.
In its latest album, “Have you ever been…?,” classical and jazz innovators Turtle Island Quartet surprise fans with their take on several Hendrix songs, as well as Hendrix-inspired compositions they wrote and recorded.
The Turtle Island Quartet will celebrate their 25th anniversary as a band, with special guests jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut and virtuoso mandolinist Mike Marshall, in a performance Friday at the Lucas Theatre.
Cellist Mark Summer, one of the original members who helped co-found the string quartet, said the group performs in celebration not only of their silver anniversary but also in recognition of their Hendrix-inspired album’s recent release.
Creating the “Have you ever been…?” record was a collaborative process within the quartet.
“We spent a lot of time listening to Jimi Hendrix and coming back to the arrangements to see how we could pull it off. To us, that’s the ultimate challenge – to take a piece of music and do something unexpected that hasn’t been done,” Summer said.
The idea to create the album came after the quartet played a show at the original site of Woodstock. Upon touring the site and watching several films from the festival’s archives, the quartet’s founder, David Balakrishnan – who saw Hendrix perform while growing up in Southern California, suggested the quartet play compositions from Hendrix.
“We worked hard to honor what Hendrix had done and to be true to David’s vision,” Summer said.
He believes fans of the Turtle Island Quartet have given a positive response to the record, so far.
“It’s fun and relaxing to come hear us play,” Summer said. “We can inspire young string players who maybe want to have a career different than what their parents did or offer them an alternative way to express themselves (musically).”
Trained in classical music, the group doesn’t perform much in the way of pure classical, but they aren’t restricted in the genres they can play. Their repertoire includes a wide range of original compositions and songs from musical icons across history.
By founding the quartet in 1985, “David had the idea that he’d take these styles and great musicians and play their compositions with string instruments,” Summer said.
He said the quartet doesn’t require multiple instruments to create a particular sound, although they enjoy bringing in special guests to play with them.
“There’s got to be a depth of understanding of the music and compositions. Every member has a distinct role in the band,” he said.
The most memorable part of creating the “Have you ever been…?” album, Summer said, was working with all of the members of the quartet.
“It was about all of us listening together to Jimi Hendrix,” he said. “It was a creative experience where we could talk to each other and figure out things like ‘how are we going to make that work?’”
IF YOU GO
What: Turtle Island Quartet
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Lucas Theatre for the Arts, 32 Abercorn St.
Admission: Tickets are $55, $48, $38, $20, and can be purchased by calling the box office at 912-525-5050 or at tickets.scadboxoffice.com.
Oct 19, 2010 Uncategorized
Cultural series planned with mass appeal in mind
By Jason Wermers
Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010
Three weeks after ‘Swonderful, the two-time Grammy-winning Turtle Island Quartet will bring their long-running string sounds to Aiken. The quartet — violinists David Balakrishnan and Mads Tolling, cellist Mark Summer and violinist Jeremy Kittel — is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Don’t come expecting a strictly classical repertoire. Yes, Turtle Island does emphasize classical, but it adds in folk and other American musical styles.
“Turtle Island is a great jazz group, and classical group,” Schumacher said. “Their last album is based on Jimi Hendrix tunes.”
Hendrix on strings?
Schumacher says it’s not to be missed.
Oct 19, 2010 Uncategorized
If you love jazz with just the right mix of string quartet and mandolin, on October 22 at 8:00 p.m. get ready to feast your ears on the sounds of the Turtle Island Quartet featuring the sensational talents of Cyrus Chestnut & Mike Marshall performing at the Lucas Theatre. This ranks high on the Arts On The Coast list of ‘things to do in Savannah’ this weekend.
Excerpt from The Lucas Theatre for the Arts website: Started in 1985, and named for Native American creation mythology, The Turtle Island Quartet has been pushing the boundaries of chamber music for strings. They combine classic quartet aesthetic with contemporary American music styles. Most recent accolades include 2006 and 2008 Grammy Awards for Best Classic Crossover album. This rare concert will also feature Americana legends Cyrus Chestnut on piano and Mike Marshall on mandolin.
Turtle Island Quartet continues their grail-like quest in a program that matches a reinterpretation of Brahms celebrated piano quintet with a gospel-tinged fantasy of Down by the Riverside. The giants of jazz such as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Louis Armstrong are given their just due and bluegrass legends like Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs are brought to the table for this musical feast.
For more information, visit and order tickets at the Lucas Theatre website.
Oct 19, 2010 Uncategorized
October 19, 2010
‘Scuse me while I kiss the strings
The Turtle Island Quartet gives Jimi Hendrix the chamber treatment
By Bill DeYoung
The Turtle Island Quartet is set up like your standard–issue string quartet: – two volins, viola and cello.
This, however, isn’t a classical music chamber group. These four guys, each a virtuoso on his own, combine jazz, swing, European gypsy music, funk and even rock ‘n’ roll. Improvisation is a key element in every performance.
The Grammy–winning group’s latest album, Have You Ever Been …?, gives the Turtle Island treatment to the music of Jimi Hendrix. It’s the followup to their tribute to John Coltrane and other giants of modern jazz, A Love Supreme.
Violinist David Balakrishnan and cellist Mark Summer are founding members of Turtle Island; the current lineup also includes Mads Tolling (violin) and Jeremy Kittel (viola). The group – originally called Turtle Island String Quartet – performs at the Lucas Theatre Friday, Oct. 22, joined by Mike Marshall (mandolin) and Cyrus Chestnut (piano), composers and players who are also known far and wide for their impatience with established musical boundaries.
Summer doesn’t just bow his cello – he uses it as a standup bass, a pizzicato orchestra and a percussion instrument.
You began as a classical cellist. How long did it take you to discover that you could do other things with the instrument?
Mark Summer: It took a long time to figure out that I could do some of the things I was dreaming about doing – on the piano, the guitar, the drums – on the cello. Because there just wasn’t anybody doing it. And I wasn’t thinking that way. There were a lot of examples of people playing different styles on the violin. But on the cello, I wasn’t aware of it. Later, people came up to me and said “Have you heard Chico Hamilton and Fred Katz?”
I got a job in the Winnepeg Symphony, and while I was there I started listening to jazz violinists, and started playing swing music on the cello. Once you amplify the cello it starts sounding more bass–like, for one thing. I started realizing that if I plucked my cello like a walking bass, it sounded quite a bit like a bass. If I stuck to the C string, mostly, and the G string. And so I parlayed that discovery into a 25–year career with Turtle Island.
Do you remember a feeling of “Hey, this opens a door. I really can do whatever I want with this”?
Mark Summer: Yeah, and I remember being really happy, a lot happier. Because I was really miserable in this orchestra. I was feeling incredible pressure, because I’m such a perfectionist anyway. When I discovered I could use the instrument as a percussion instrument, that was a neat moment.
With all respect, was there a point where you thought “This is more than a parlor trick”?
Mark Summer: We talk a lot about that with Turtle Island, the parlor trick aspect. We talk about it because we’re aware that we’re doing these techniques that are very bare–bones. You want to give the impression that drums are happening but really, they’re not. We’re hitting the instruments and doing these percussion techniques on the violin and viola, but we don’t think of it that way. It’s like all kinds of music where people are trying to create rhythm by any means possible.
The music that we play is the music that we love, and the music that we can invest our hearts and souls in.
For instance, Jimi Hendrix. In another group’s hands, that might have come off differently. The reason it works so well for Turtle Island is because David saw Jimi Hendrix as a teenager, and he brought the idea in. He said “Let’s listen to this and see if there’s something beyond parlor tricks, imitating a rock band.” He approached it from the standpoint of Hendrix’s compositions, and transcribed his many, many guitar overdubs.
What surprised you about Hendrix’s writing? “Little Wing,” for example, is so melodically rich.
Mark Summer: “Little Wing” I didn’t know all that well, but I’d heard it and I just thought it was a beautiful tune. It’s not just a solo guitar, his whole band plays on that tune. For me, the challenge was how do you make it sound big and full, and just be one instrument?
I was more surprised about the music from Electric Ladyland. He did a lot of techniques of recording that resulted in these really rich textures of guitars. I think I was just impressed with the intricacies of what he did.
Why did you drop the word “string” from the group’s name?
Mark Summer: The actual, practical reason was the record company asked us to. But we had talked about it. In Germany, our agent asked us to keep it. Because in Germany if you say “Hey, you want to go hear a string quartet, they’re playing this groovy music?” it’s not a hard sell. It’s very normal for a family to go out to hear a concert together.
In the United States, first of all teenagers don’t do anything with their parents. College students aren’t going to all that many concerts either.
We’d won a Grammy for a recording we did with the Ying Quartet, and they’re not called the Ying String Quartet. And we realized all of a sudden that all of the groups that were really in prominence, that we admired … Kronos, the Emerson Quartet … I argued that we should just be known as Turtle Island. Then, there’s a little bit more ambiguity. And in this country I think that’s good. But in Europe, it would be bad! So we’re the Turtle Island Quartet.
And we’ve played so much jazz that “Turtle Island Quartet” sounds like a jazz group sometimes.
What’s the program for the Savannah concert?
Mark Summer: We come out and we do two pieces from the Have You Ever Been …? Suite, and then Cyrus comes out and we do some numbers with him. Then we play with Mike, and then we play all together. We take an intermission and then we come back and do some with each of them.
It gives us an opportunity to play as a quartet, quintet and sextet, depending on which piece we’re playing.
Are we calling this “jazz chamber music”? Do you play any straight classical pieces?
Mark Summer: Our Grammys are for “classical crossover.” I used to say we play every kind of music but classical music, but that’s not true. We play some classical music, but it’s mostly arranged in some way. This concert, we won’t be playing any classical music. We’ll play a piece of David’s called “Groove in the Louve,” which has elements of classical composition, but ends up being kind of an homage to Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunesia.”
We end the program all together playing “Crossroads,” the Robert Johnson tune that Eric Clapton made famous.
It’s definitely a lot of driving, rhythmic music. We take a lot of pains to make good use of the string quartet the way people like to hear string quartets play counterpoint. The great contrapuntal writing associated with Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart and Haydn. But employed to serve a groove.
Turtle Island Quartet
With Cyrus Chestnut and Mike Marshall
Where: Lucas Theatre for the Arts, 32 Abercorn St.
When: At 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22
Oct 18, 2010 Uncategorized
Turtle Island Quartet: Have You Ever Been…?
By Jonathan Kosakow 18 October 2010
Over the years, recreating any single part of Jimi Hendrix’s music has proven nearly, if not completely, impossible. Well, now it’s time to make way for Turtle Island Quartet. Granted, the classical string quartet inherently lacks the boisterousness of Hendrix’s electric blues, and the deafening, somehow melodic feedback isn’t there either, but the eight tracks TIQ have chosen for this reinterpretation translate surprisingly well. Perhaps the only downfall of the disc is that TIQ front man David Balakrishnan’s four-movement composition Tree of Life sits sandwiched in the middle of these Hendrix tracks like a full-grown man sitting in the back seat of a mid-size sedan. Tree of Life can and should stand on its own, and it’s unfortunate that TIQ, for some reason, felt it couldn’t, or shouldn’t. However, that takes nothing away from the fact that every note played by these four musicians, Hendrix or otherwise, deserves your ear.
Oct 12, 2010 Uncategorized
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
If you like Time for Three…
…you might also like the Turtle Island Quartet, whose new disc, “Have You Ever Been…?” (Telarc), presents the long-running string quartet in a program of music from the Jimi Hendrix book, plus leader David Balakrishnan’s suite called “Tree of Life.” The two groups do not plow the same fields, but they farm in the same climate, as it were. And the (for now) Indianapolis-based Time for Three is all over the place next week, with a shared gig at the Jazz Kitchen on Monday and three appearances under the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra aegis, including a young-adult-oriented Happy Hour, on Thursday through Saturday.
The common ground is to use classical training on string instruments to take in a variety of demotic musical styles in original and arranged pieces, generally of a length that welcomes pop fans’ attention.
Hendrix’s influence on rock guitar has long been acknowledged; the Turtle Islanders use his sometimes grating harmonies and sonorities to the advantage of the conventional grouping of two violins, viola and cello.
The opening suite, an inviting medley from Hendrix’s “Electric Ladyland” LP, provides a well-knit sampling, also highlighting the counterpoint implied by Hendrix’s adventures beyond paint-by-numbers rock.
Balakrishnan and his colleagues judiciously make room for two guests on one track each: Stefon Harris lends his crystalline vibraphone to “Gypsy Eyes,” which opens with a tantalizing wash of “atmosphere” and, after the main theme is well-established by all five players, yields to a grooving Harris solo with scratchy background figures moving in a gradual crescendo before the piece ends. The other guest is Mike Marshall, who plays an oddity called a mandocello on “All Along the Watchtower.” The Bob Dylan tune is inherently less interesting than “Gypsy Eyes,” but lends itself to intense jamming.
Also worth mentioning are cellist Mark Summer’s enthralling unaccompanied showcase, “Little Wing,” and the moody, texturally varied arrangement of “Hey Joe.”
As for “Tree of Life,” it’s a neatly composed tribute to Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. In a sense, it traces the composer’s musical evolution — his background in Indian classical music and his absorption of funk, jazz, country, folk and other traditions. It’s amazingly free of a patchwork feeling, and it will be interesting to see how Chris Brubeck’s “Travels in Time for Three,” which the local trio will present with the ISO Friday and Saturday, compares — since it also proclaims proudly a multi-culti heritage.
Oct 8, 2010 Uncategorized
October 07. 2010
Turtle Island Quartet to play music of Hendrix, Coltrane
Turtle Island String Quartet photographed at the Marin Headlands in Marin County, CA April 22, 2010(C)Jay Blakesberg
Turtle Island Quartet will perform today at noon at Penn State Behrend’s McGarvey Commons in the Reed Union Building as part of the Logan Series. It’s free, open to the public, with parking available in Reed Union Building lot. For more about the quartet, visit the website turtleislandquartet.com.
Preview by John Chacona
‘Have You Ever Been …?” asks the title of the new CD by the Turtle Island Quartet. It’s a reference to a lyric from “Are You Experienced,” the first LP by the protean rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix.
The music of Hendrix dominates the CD, which may not surprise you until you consider that the Turtle Island Quartet is not composed of two guitars, bass, and drums, but rather of two violins, viola, and cello. That’s right, it’s the standard lineup of the classical string quartet.
But the Turtles — Mark Summer on cello, Jeremy Kittel on viola, and violinists Mads Tolling and David Balakrishnan — are a classical string quartet neither in name (the word “String” was dropped from the group’s name several years ago) nor in style.
All four players are classically trained, but unlike most concert string players, they all improvise. And the music they play is … well, it challenges the notion of genre to its foundation. Classical music is part of it, but so is jazz. The ensemble’s last CD was 2007′s “A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane,” dedicated to the late saxophonist.
Like Coltrane, Hendrix completely redefined what was possible on his instrument during the last few years of the 1960s (Coltrane died in 1967, three years before the guitarist).
But Balakrishnan responds less to their undeniable technical virtuosity than to the intensity of feeling, the almost ecstatic aspiration, central to the work of both men.
As a young man growing up in Southern California, Balakrishnan saw Hendrix twice.
“I was 14, just old enough to convince my mom to let me go to the L.A. Forum by myself,” Balakrishnan told me by phone from Turtle Island’s tour stop in Texas. “It was so exciting on a level of physical ecstasy in the way that you can only be moved by if you are a teenager, and it created such a deep longing to do that. It hurt, in a way.”
The impression didn’t abate with time.
“A couple of years ago, we had a gig at Bethel, N.Y., where Woodstock was held, and we saw a film of Hendrix playing, and all of a sudden, I could see him at 27, and I could sense that there was something coming through him that was genius. He was head and shoulders above everybody — and there were great musicians then.”
The Turtle Island Quartet won Grammy Awards in 2006 and 2008 for best classical crossover album, but “crossover” is not a tern Balakrishnan endorses.
“I see it as a gradual and inevitable widening of the parameters of classical music. If you were alive in the time of Beethoven and you had a conservative aesthetic, you might not have identified what he did as ‘classical music.’”
But musicians as vital and curious as Turtle Island render labels beside the point. And for Balakrishnan, that is the point.
Have you ever been experienced? Well, the Turtle Island Quartet has.