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Turtle Island String Quartet - A Love Supreme Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 May 2007
format:    16-bit CD
performance:    9
sound:    7
release year:    2007
label:    Telarc
reviewed by:    Scott Yanow

ImageJohn Coltrane’s A Love Supreme was one of the highpoints of the great saxophonist’s recording career. Recorded in late 1964 with his classic quartet (pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones), the spiritual work was for years considered an untouchable classic. However, in recent times jazz musicians and even singers have been exploring the four-part work. Kurt Elling is one of a few vocalists who have performed all or part of the suite as vocalese (singing words to Coltrane’s notes), and both Branford Marsalis and Wynton Marsalis are among those instrumentalists who have recorded the full suite.

But A Love Supreme had never been recorded by a string quartet until Turtle Island recently tackled it. The Turtle Island String Quartet has long been an innovative group, ever since it arrived on the scene more than 20 years ago as the first-ever improvising string quartet. The Kronos String Quartet explored jazz works slightly earlier, but without improvising. In the years since, Turtle Island has interpreted jazz, Indian music and classical with equal success.

Comprised of David Balakrishnan and Evan Price on violins, Mads Tolling on viola and cellist Mark Summer, the Turtle Island String Quartet has four brilliant musicians who have open minds and are talented soloists. On A Love Supreme, they not only play their rendition of the title suite but other selections associated with Coltrane. Although it sounds impossible, there are times during some of the violin solos and the ensembles when one can definitely hear strong hints of Coltrane’s sound and spirit. In the repertoire are such Coltrane compositions as “Moments Notice” (arguably his most rewarding song), “Model Trane” (which is really “Impressions”), “Countdown” and the lyrical ballad “Naima.” There are three more numbers associated with ‘Trane, “’Round Midnight,” “My Favorite Things” and “So What,” and tributes written by John McLaughlin (“La Danse du Bonheur”) and the team of Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke (“Song to John”).

“A Love Supreme,” originally around 35 minutes long, is performed by the Turtle Island String Quartet in 19 minutes. The chants are gone, along with (of course) the tenor, piano and drums solos. However, the essence of the suite is revisited, revised and altered a bit for this instrumentation while not losing its purpose or any of its themes. While paying tribute to the original version, Turtle Island has really created a new work.

The late Alice Coltrane, who did not give her approval to an excess of Coltrane tribute sets, wrote a paragraph that is included on the CD’s back cover in which she praises the group and its creativity in exploring her husband’s work. She was correct. This homage is both unique and enjoyable to hear.

The beauty of the four strings is expertly captured at Skywalker Sound Studios in Marin County in northern California. One can easily hear each of the musicians at all times, picking out the second violin parts behind the lead and the interplay between the viola and the swinging cello. Both the Turtle Island String Quartet and the legacy of John Coltrane are well served by the balance and the overall recording quality of this memorable set.

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