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 Tuesday, 01 December 2015
Turtle Island String Quartet with Cyrus Chestnut and Mike Marshall 12/10 in San Francisco PDF Print
Written by Ronaldo Oregano   
Sunday, 05 December 2010
Turtle Island String Quartet Jay Blakesburg

This eclectic stew of string quartet with jazz piano and mandolin will come to a boil at The Herbst Theatre in San Francisco on Friday, December 10th. Since its 1985 founding, the Turtle Island String Quartet has escorted listeners through the worlds of folk, funk, bluegrass, bop, salsa, swing, hip hop, R&B, new age, classical and more. So how does such an adventurous ensemble celebrate 25 years together? By recording an homage to the visionary music of Jimi Hendrix, of course. Turtle Island is now back on the road, shredding genres with brilliant jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut and mandolin virtuoso Mike Marshall. For those who like their Coltrane with a side of Flatt & Scruggs, this will be a performance to remember. The Turtle Island String Quartet features David Balakrishnan on violin, Mads Tolling on violin, Jeremy Kittel on viola, and Mark Summer on cello.

Its name derived from creation mythology found in Native American Folklore, the Turtle Island Quartet, since its inception in 1985, has been a singular force in the creation of bold, new trends in chamber music for strings. Winner of the 2006 and most recently, the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Classical Crossover Album, Turtle Island fuses the classical quartet esthetic with contemporary American musical styles, and by devising a performance practice that honors both, the state of the art has inevitably been redefined. Cellist nonpareil Yo-Yo Ma has proclaimed TIQ to be “a unified voice that truly breaks new ground—authentic and passionate—a reflection of some of the most creative music-making today.” Image

The Quartet’s birth was the result of violinist David Balakrishnan’s brainstorming explorations and compositional vision while completing his master's degree program at Antioch University West. The journey has taken Turtle Island through forays into folk, bluegrass, swing, be-bop, funk, R&B, new age, rock, hip-hop, as well as music of Latin America and India …a repertoire consisting of hundreds of ingenious arrangements and originals. It has included over a dozen recordings on labels such as Windham Hill, Chandos, Koch and Telarc, soundtracks for major motion pictures, TV and radio credits such as the Today Show, All Things Considered, Prairie Home Companion, and Morning Edition, feature articles in People and Newsweek magazines, and collaborations with famed artists such as clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera, vibraphonist Stefon Harris, guitar legends such as Leo Kottke and the Assad brothers, The Manhattan Transfer, pianists Billy Taylor, Kenny Barron and Ramsey Lewis, the Ying Quartet and the Parsons Dance Company.

Another unique element of Turtle Island is their revival of venerable improvisational and compositional chamber traditions that have not been explored by string players for nearly 200 years. 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 of expertise as well as having extensive conservatory training as instrumentalists.

One result of this dedication can be seen in Turtle Island’s phenomenal international appeal, particularly in Europe where chamber music remains a vital facet of life. What was once termed ‘alternative’ chamber music now firmly inhabits the mainstream. Turtle Island members refine their skills through the development of repertory by some of today’s cutting edge composers, through performances and recordings with major symphonic ensembles, and through a determined educational commitment. Turtle Island Quartet promises to be the string quartet for the next century.

ImageTelarc International, a leader in jazz recording since the 1980s, adds another stellar name to its impressive roster by bringing pianist Cyrus Chestnut into the fold. Chestnut has recently finished an album with the help of producer Elaine Martone (McCoy Tyner, Tierney Sutton, Ray Brown). Genuine Chestnut, a mix of original material with a few covers, was released in February 2006.

“There's a good team at Telarc, and an excellent reputation in jazz that spans almost two decades,” says Chestnut. “I'm very honored to be a part of the legacy of great artists who have recorded with them.”

Born in January 1963, Chestnut first sat down at the piano with his father at age five, and began his formal training at seven. Years later, armed with a Berklee degree in jazz composition and arranging, he spent several years as a sideman for high-profile artists like Jon Hendricks, Betty Carter, Terence Blanchard and Donald Harrison.

Prior to joining Telarc, Chestnut recorded a string of records on Atlantic between 1993 and 2001, including the highly regarded Earth Stories (1995) and Cyrus Chestnut (1998). His variety of influences has made for an eclectic style over the years, although gospel has been a recurring thread in many of his recordings.

Chestnut says the new record on Telarc is intended as, among other things, a message to those who have suggested in recent years that he may have lost some of his earlier steam in the jazz scene. “A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this record,” he says. “Maybe getting to the next level in life requires pushing just a little bit harder and giving just a little bit more. The compositions on this record are much different than on any of my other records. To me, this music is a lot more organic than it's ever been before.”

Telarc's Martone agrees. “Cyrus is a special guy—a quiet, soulful man,” she says. “We’re very pleased to have him with us, given the substantial body of work he's already established and the reputation that comes along with it. He waited to get to Telarc to make his most personal recording to date. Genuine Chestnut is just what the title suggests “an album straight from Cyrus Chestnut’s heart and soul.”

ImageMike Marshall is one of the world’s most accomplished and versatile string instrumentalists in American today. A master on mandolin, guitar, mandocello and violin, he has created some of the most adventurous instrumental music for over 35 years. His concert tours that have taken him around the globe.

Whether playing bluegrass with Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck or Chris Thile, Brazilian choro music with Hamilton de Holanda or Baroque classical with German mandolinist  Caterina Lichenberg, Mike is able to swing gracefully between all of these musical styles with a unique blend of virtuosity, depth and musical integrity that is rare in the cross cultural musical world of today.

His most recent CD is called Big Trio with two of the young lions of instrumental music in America, Alex Hargreaves (violin) and Paul Kowert (bass). “All three players in this group are virtuosos... showing no limitations. This is high caliber music from musicians at their peak.” Mandolin Magazine.

Releasing in early 2010 is a project with German classical mandolin virtuoso Caterina Lichtenberg. She is the Professor of mandolin at the Music Conservatory in Cologne, Germany. The two have been touring throughout Europe and the U.S since 2008.

A look at Mike’s calendar and you will find him on concert tours with everyone from the  Swedish group Vasen, the Grammy winning jazz ensemble The Turtle Island String Quartet or with his progressive bluegrass group Psychograss with Darol Anger, Tony Trischka, Todd Phillips and Davig Grier. 

Mike grew up in Central Florida, where he cut his teeth on traditional American music. His interest in many musicals styles however eventually led him to the San Francisco Bay Area to join the original David Grisman Quintet in 1978 at age 19. This band toured and recorded with the legendary jazz violinist Stephan Grappelli, Mark O'Connor and guitarist Tony Rice. They performed on the Johnny Carson Show that same year and toured Europe and Japan and helped set a new standard for American stringband music.

Since then, Mike has continued pushing the boundaries of acoustic music and can be heard on hundreds of recordings as a composer, featured artist, sideman and producer. During the 1980s, Mike recorded for the Windham Hill label with his group The Montreux Band and also formed the classical ensemble, The Modern Mandolin Quartet. This group redefined the mandolin family in a classical music setting with many newly created works for this format and recorded 4 CDs during it's tenure.

In 1995, Mike began his love affair with the music of Brazil. After a visit there, he embarked on an in-depth study of the roots of Brazilian popular music, Choro. This obsession has led to recordings and concerts with some of Brazil’s finest musicians, including Hamilton de Holanda, Danilo Brito, Jovino Santos Neto and Hermeto Pascoal. His group Choro Famoso has helped spearhead a wave in the U.S. for this infectious style. In 1999 Mike also created his own label, Adventure Music which has released over 30 CDs to date of the music of Brazil. 

Mike's association with bassist Edgar Meyer led to 2 CDs for the Sony Classical label. One with long time friend Bela Fleck the other with violinist Joshua Bell and mandolinist Sam Bush, Each were nominated for Grammy awards and in 1999 the group played on the Grammy award TV show.

Mike has always had an interest in helping young artists and has over 2 dozen CD productions to his credit including The Hot Buttered Rum Band, Cadillac Sky, Laurie Lewis, Alison Brown, Tony Furtado and George Brooks.

As he does so engagingly in his music, Mike also applies his artistic aesthetic to his principal hobby: cooking. Already known as one of the best chefs amongst his musical pals, he has been trading guitar lessons for cooking lessons with Michael Peternell: head chef at Berkeley’s famed Chez Panise Restaurant. He’s also been spotted there slicing carrots and peeling onions ‘back stage’!

As a teacher, Mike founded a one week mandolin camp for in 2002 with his old pal David Grisman. The Mandolin Symposium takes place the last week of June at U.C. Santa Cruz with over 150 mandolinists and 10 of the greatest players/teachers in the world.

If you hear mandolin on NPR’s Car Talk radio show opening music, that’s Mike along with Earl Scruggs, David Grisman and Tony Rice. In addition Mike composed and recorded the theme music for the San Francisco based radio program Forum heard daily on KQED radio.

The Herbst Theatre is located at 401 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. For tickets visit

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