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 email@example.com.