Leader David Balakrishnan observes in his liner notes that in the past an album such as this would be instantly dismissed as ineffective crossover not worth serious attention, but how that has changed today. There is an openness about mixtures of musical streams in every genre. One of the finest reputations in this field since 1985 has been held by the innovator in swinging chamber music for strings – The Turtle Island Quartet. They have successfully blended the classical string quartet esthetic with every sort of American music and world music of Latin America and India. They have also launched creative re-compositions of works by the old masters.
This time around the TIQ presents the music of one of the old masters of jazz, John Coltrane. His music is not new to any of the quartet’s members: Balakrishnan points out “all of us were transcribing Coltrane solos when we were teenagers.” The difficult trick here is to convert the sax man’s ensemble of sax, piano, bass and drums for the pair of violins, viola and cello. The complexity of some of Coltrane’s music – with dense harmonies and unusual modal keys – makes this a challenging task. Blends of the original scoring, transcription, and improvisation are used, and some of the more emphatic rhythmic drive of the originals is simulated thru the use of unison pizzicati and walking figures.
In addition to classics taken from Coltrane’s immortal recordings, there are two tracks composed since his passing. One is La Danse du Bonheur, which brings a stronger influence of Indian music into the Coltrane realm, and Song to John – a tribute composed by Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke. The centerpiece of the album is the TIQ’s interpretation of Coltrane’s four-part masterpiece A Love Supreme. Presentation of Coltrane’s legacy in this unique instrumentation brings out his tremendous gift for melody which might be missed in many of the original versions. The very first LP (actually at 45 rpm!) by another famous San Francisco-area string quartet – the Kronos – was roughly a vanguard of what the TIQ was later to do, and it’s remained my favorite Kronos album, so I’ve been psyched for a long time to anything the TIQ is going to lend their bows to!
TrackList: Moment’s Notice, La Danse du Bonheur, Model Trane, A Love Supreme, ‘Round Midnight, Countdown, My Favorite Things, Naima, Song to John, So What.
– John Sunier