Turtle Island Quartet – Bird’s Eye View – Azica Records 

An interesting and intricate take on jazz compositions linked to Charlie Parker. 

Turtle Island Quartet – Bird’s Eye View – Azica Records ACD71318 61:55****

(Alex Hargreaves – violin; David Balakrishnan – violin; Benjamin von Gutzeit – viola; Malcolm Parson – cello)

Crossover albums often end up to be less than advertised for a variety of reasons, including the performers’ lack of understanding or appreciation of the intended musical form. However the Turtle Island Quartet’s newest release Bird’s Eye View delivers the goods with an interesting and intricate take on jazz compositions associated as least in name, to Charlie Parker.

The disc opens with the group exploring a composition by violinist David Balakrishnan which is a lengthy four part story under the rubric “Aeroelasticity: Harmonies Of Impermanence”. The four sections are “Backlash” “Lonesome George” “Pralaya” and “Flutter Point”.

While there does not appear to be a musical theme that bolts all these compositions together, there are some commonalities that can be discerned by a reading of the liner notes. For example, sections I and IV bring the issue of the effects of air currents on planes into their definition. Hence the associated music is driven by re-arranged instrumental textures, and energetic asserted inflections. Sections II and III might be regarded as paeans to both unrequited love ( in the case of a giant tortoise) and lost love  as evidenced in Hinduism. There is some strong elbowed bowing throughout the sections, with Parson’s cello robust and sturdily efficient.

The heart of the release is tracks 5 through 11, wherein the quartet puts their considerable talents to the ambitious process of the chamberesque covering of jazz compositions. Starting with the Lee Konitz composition “Subconscious-Lee” which is based on the chord changes of What Is This Thing Called Love,  it is pushed along through the middle section by the pizzicato cello of Malcolm Parson. The other strings switch back and forth through all manner of harmonic complexities.

“Miles Ahead” composed by Miles Davis and Gil Evans was the title track of the 1957 Columbia record release Miles Ahead-Miles Davis +19. The Evans’ arrangement of this number had a counter rhythmic structure that took advantage of Davis’ long clear notes. The quartet’s interpretation mimics the Evans chart, but per force, lacks the dynamics that can be achieved with a full 19 piece orchestra. Nevertheless, the interaction between the players, as well as their individual efforts, offer a harmonically coherent take on the composition.

The two other bold type pieces are Charlie Parker’s “Dewey Square” and John Lewis’ “Django”. The Parker number may have been written in reference to either a square in downtown Boston or possibly Miles Davis whose middle name was Dewey. Although it is one of Parker’s lesser known tunes, it is still filled with bebop influences such as a fast tempo,  and riding up and down the scales. Propelled by Parson’s plucked cello, the other strings dive in with a vibrant and vivacious musical exposition.

“Django” was the title track to the Modern Jazz Quartet’s 1956 release entitled Django and the number was written by John Lewis in memory of the great Belgium gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. The arrangement is one of earnest self-control and wonderful cool. Like its composer it is fully cerebral yet stylishly melodic.

The close relationship by this esteemed quartet is on full display on this release.

TrackList: Aeroelasticity: Harmonies Of Impermanence I.Backlash, II. Lonesome George, III. Pralaya, IV. Flutter Point; Subconscious-Lee; Miles Ahead; Dewey Square; Squawk; Propeller; Django; Rebirth Of The Holy Fool

—Pierre Giroux

 

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