Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Turtle Island Quartet with Stefon Harris

Heard a great hit tonight:  The Turtle Island Quartet with Stefon Harris.

I have always liked TIQ because of the sensibility that they approach music with.  They play in the moment, improvise and maintain a jazz aesthetic in everything they play.  From their bio:

"At the time of Haydn's apocryphal creation of the string quartet form, musicians were more akin to today's saxophonists and keyboard masters of the jazz and pop world, i.e., improvisers, composers and arrangers.  Each Turtle Island member is accomplished in these areas..."

I have often wondered exactly how it was that improvisation stopped being a common skill, but that is a topic for another post.  

The centerpieces of tonight's performance were several pieces from Duke's Sacred Concerts arranged and set into a suite by violinist David Balakrishnan.  The suite was composed of:  It's Freedom, Praise God, and Come Sunday.  The setting was transcendent and Stefon's vibe playing was the perfect color to offset the strings.  Other than Stefon's playing, other highlights included 'cellist Mark Summer's channeling of Mahalia on the theme of Come Sunday and Stefon's reading of a portion of the text from a eulogy that Duke gave for Strays over the setting of It's Freedom.  It was no surprise that Duke's Sacred music translated  very well to the string texture, but I was very pleasantly surprised at the concert's closer, an arrangement of Chick Corea's Senor Mouse on which everyone stretched.  Stefon, of course, was bad.  Other great moments were Mark Summer's pizz work and Mads Tolling's solo work.

Here is a portion of the text that Stefon read.  "He demanded freedom of expression and lived in what we consider the most important and moral of freedoms:  freedom from hate, unconditionally; freedom from self-pity; freedom from fear of possibly doing something that might help another more than it might himself; and freedom from the kind of pride that could make a man feel he was better than his brother".

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