The Turtle Island String Quartet is one of a number of groups that have followed the crossover example laid down by the Kronos Quartet, mixing classical repertory with quartet arrangements of pop songs and a variety of other material extraneous to the string quartet tradition. Here it performs in a double quartet format with the Ying Quartet, a group not from China but from Iowa. The two quartets got together, charmingly, when members of the two groups met in the bar of a Holiday Inn in Lawrence, KS. Serendipity aside, the musicians have selected pieces that work well in double quartet arrangements. Several pieces either come from the jazz tradition or, in the case of Milhaud's La création du monde, have strong jazz accents, and the range of percussion sounds available to two string quartets as opposed to just one is a boon. There is a large, vaguely Indian piece called Mara's Garden of False Delights, a Beatles song (Because), and a piece called Variations on an Unoriginal Theme that throws in the whole requisite range of postmodern references: to gospel, to Ravel, to funk, to Irish music, and so on. One work, Julie-O, is for a pair of cellos.
The two quartets blend into a single ensemble, with everybody on the same page, and overall there's a sense of good-hearted fun here that the Kronos sometimes lacks. Kronos fans will find this music right up their alley. And even listeners who've avoided this sort of crossover experimentation may find it to their liking.