The Turtle Island String Quartet made a rare local appearance Saturday at the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center in Sherman Oaks. (The quartet will return Sunday for a free concert at the Wadsworth Theater.)
It is hard to conceive of a musical area in which these totally gifted performers would not be at ease. Their eclecticism took them through a program in which composition, arrangements and improvisation were interwoven with uncanny ingenuity.
Unlike other similarly constituted groups, they all have the ability, both in ensembles and ad-lib solos, to convey a true feeling for the nature of jazz. Violinist David Balakrishnan’s inspired arrangement of “Night in Tunisia” established their sensitivity in this idiom. Darol Anger, also an accomplished jazz violinist, composed “Grant Wood,” displaying the quartet’s adaptability to Nashville roots. There was even a touch of New Age in their salute to Ralph Towner of the group Roegon.
With the cellist Mark Summer usually plucking the strings like a jazz bassist, the quartet often achieved a swinging intensity normally beyond the reach of a string group. Except for one number that used a prerecorded percussion part, there was no rhythm section in the conventional sense, yet there was an innate rhythmic essence to “Stolen Moments,” the funky “Street Stuff” and violist Irene Sazer’s arrangement of “The Sidewinder,” a 24-bar blues in which Mark Summer played arco and pizzicato solos while the others offered riffing support.
Sazer must be the world’s foremost jazz viola player (admittedly this is not a crowded field). Her unaccompanied interlude on “Sunny August Full of Moon” was hypnotic, as was her every solo.
Is the Turtle Island String Quartet too subtle to make its mark in a noise-oriented society? One can only hope that time, and a few intelligent promoters, will accord the foursome the worldwide exposure it deserves.