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.