The classical string quartet is considered the invention of classical composer Franz Josef Haydn. The Turtle Island String Quartet has a reputation of pursuing not so obvious applications of the classical string quartet format. This is quite apparent on their debut Telarc releaseis it jazz or classical? The Turtle Island four join forces with the Ying Quartet for a thought-provoking mix of classical and nonclassical performances. The three-part suite "Mara's Garden of False Delights" is a commissioned work that betrays an Eastern sensibility tempered with a Gershwin-like harmonic backbone. This mixing of cultures is a theme throughout the recording.
The straight "classical" piece is Darius Milaud's "La Creation Du Monde," as arranged by Danny Seidenberg. The pop music entry is the Beatles' "Because." Both pieces are performed respectfully, with great insight and internal harmonic knowledge. Oliver Nelson's brilliant "Yearnin'" is played with great soul and a smile. These songs demonstrate both the depth and breath of the two quartets' vision and capability.
Perhaps most provocative piece is entitled "Variations on an Unoriginal Theme," both for its ironic title and clever educational value. This composition uses an original theme with seven variations that include references to Haydn, Celtic dance, a Tchaikovsky scherzo, an Aaron Copland hoedown recapitulation morphing into a Negro gospel romp, Bernard Hermann and Phillip Glass, big band swing with a hint of Le Hot Club du France, a Ravel/Debussy love-child, and a summit between Horace Silver and James Brown. This is just plain fun, with an educational twist to boot.