Review: Turtle Island a string quartet that can swing, too

The Grammy Award-winning Turtle Island Quartet stopped by Sunday night at The Egg and proved that ev

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For Gazette music writer Geraldine Freedman’s preview of this show, click here.

The Grammy Award-winning Turtle Island Quartet stopped by Sunday night at The Egg and proved that even a string quartet can swing.

Violinist David Balakrishnan and cellist Mark Summer are celebrating the quartet’s 25th season this fall. Violinist Mads Tolling and violist Jeremy Kittel are the newcomers.

Years ago, the idea that a string quartet could play jazz, let alone bluegrass, bossa nova, Appalachia or anything else besides the standard classical repertoire was heresy in some circles. But the musicians persisted with original material. A crowd of devoted fans on Sunday verified their choices.

This concert was special because the guest artist was mandolinist Mike Marshall, a virtuoso and revolutionary thinker himself. Many of the tunes performed were his and they were nifty.

For those not familiar with the Turtles, it was ear-opening to see how close they come to sounding like a jazz combo.

Summer uses his cello to pluck out a walking bass line or knocks or taps his instrument as a drummer might to get a rim shot. Improvisation ability is a necessity for each player. They’re all well trained and all compose. Their arrangements are well integrated to maintain the tune yet still provide interesting harmonies and interweaving lines. Ensemble was generally tight.

They began with a tune from their “A Love Supreme” disc of John Coltrane’s music. Their sound was mellow with a decibel level (Summer was the only one amped) that was easy on the ears. Marshall’s “House Camp” had a dark Celtic flavor that showed off his agile fingerwork.

One of their favorites is Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonte’s “Loro.” Filled with the lilting rhythms of bossa nova, it had a softer edge. Marshall’s “Egypt” was more freeform with each taking a solo. The driving tempo and Marshall’s strong rhythms were mesmerizing.

The quintet did a medley of three pretty contrasting Brazilian tunes. In Marshall’s “Sweet’s Mill,” which was Coplandesque, the score was more typically classical, which caused some unevenness to the flow. The players seemed cautious as if they were sounding each other out.

The hit of the evening was Marshall’s “Gator’s Strut” with Marshall on his mandocello, a hybrid about the size of a guitar. The piece was funky, driving and very cool.

The second half was notable for Marshall and Kittel’s duo in Kittel’s Appalachia-flavored “Little Bears”; Marshall and Summer in Summer’s catchy “Julie-O”; and Tolling’s three-movement Indian-inspired suite.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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