Turtle Island String Quartet

Have You Ever Been...?

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In 2010, San Francisco's Turtle Island Quartet and Concord Records came out with an album of Jimi Hendrix covers mingled with original compositions by John McLaughlin and violinist David Balakrishnan, entitled Have You Ever Been...? Preceded in 2007 by their Coltrane tribute album, A Love Supreme, this recording finds the group continuing to explore creative methodology and material selection as they had over the preceding decade. Violinists Balakrishnan and Mads Tolling, violist Jeremy Kittel, and cellist Mark Summer interact in ways that suggest affinities with performers signed by European labels like Soul Note, or (especially during Balakrishnan's beautifully composed suite) even ECM. The field of modern chamber string groups that handle expanded repertoire has become more thickly populated than it was when the Turtle Islanders first convened a quarter-century before this recording was made. The awesomely stern, less improvisationally inclined Kronos Quartet naturally comes to mind, as do Maxine Roach and the Uptown String Quartet. Generally speaking, the Turtle Island Quartet is less likely to stand you on your ear and take your breath away than the mighty String Trio of New York. But there are parallels, well worth exploring, between all of the groups mentioned here. And while the Hendrix covers are painted in suitably bold colors, Balakrishnan's four-part "Tree of Life" feels a bit like something akin to the work of James Emery or Colin Walcott. So maybe you need to cop a listen.

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