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4+ Four by Turtle Island String Quartet with the Ying Quartet

One of the most innovative string groups, and certainly a groundbreaker, the Turtle Island String Quartet opened the way for improvisation as they performed arrangements of numerous jazz standards not to mention classical, country, rock, New Age, swing, Latin and Middle Eastern music as well. TISQ is still doing it. But now, after several personnel changes, the group has signed with Telarc under the leadership of co-founder David Balakrishnan, continuing its high level of musicianship and unpredictable repertoire on a new label. And TISQ has doubled the number of the strings by doubling up with the Ying Quartet, their collaboration a first-time event and the result of a what-if proposition at a board meeting for Chamber Music America. Now the what-if has become reality, with a compounded richness and varied list of compositions that don’t showcase the possibilities of their joint project as much as allow them to satisfy their insatiable curiosity for testing new boundaries.

As would be expected, TISQ presents the unexpected, starting first with Oliver Nelson’s "Yearnin’" and easing the listeners into the light swing before the two quartets create musical exchanges before the walking cello backs the solos. But if a listener thinks that the string quartets will remain on the path of jazz standards, that would be wrong. For the next piece, "Julie-O," revisits TISQ cellist Mark Summer’s previous recording, but this time as a colloquy with cellist David Ying, providing an intertwining of lines that still remain within the country roots of the song. Speaking of roots, Evan Price’s "Variations On An Unoriginal Theme" converts the classical theme, referring to the string quartet’s origins, into versions that refer to the cultures of a disparate selection of countries, including Ireland, R&B, bluegrass and samba.

But then there is Darius Milhaud’s "La Création du Monde," rearranged for the occasion, which reinforces TISQ’s interests in combining the rhythms of jazz with the harmonies of the European classical tradition lessons that Milhaud went on to teach Dave Brubeck when he was at Mills College. Perhaps the most memorable part of the CD is Balakrishnan’s three-part suite, "Mara’s Garden Of False Delights," which addresses the lessons of Hindu philosophy for fulfillment.... and thus concerns much more than the notes themselves. And then, unexpectedly as always, TISQ and the Ying Quartet end the CD with an allusion to John Lennon, "Because," which reportedly he composed by considering the chords of Beethoven’s "Moonlight Sonata" in reverse. Once again, the string quartets combine classical and modern references in one song, which they highlight with their own arrangements that borrow from each influence.

With an auspicious debut on Telarc, the Turtle Island String Quartet continues on its innovative path as if combines the virtuosity of the classical music in which they were immersed and the innumerable cultural influences that keep the music fresh and the TISQ surprising.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Turtle Island String Quartet with the Ying Quartet
  • CD Title: 4+ Four
  • Genre: Other
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Telarc
  • Tracks: Yearnin’; Julie-O; Mara’s Garden Of False Delights: Sri-Jo, Doughboy, Snakes And Ladders; La Création du Monde; Variations On An Unoriginal Theme; Because
  • Musicians: Turtle Island String Quartet: David Balakrishnan, Evan Price (violin); Mads Tolling (viola); Mark Summer (cello) Ying Quartet: Timothy Ying, Janet Ying (violin); Phillip Ying (viola); David Ying (cello)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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