Turtle Island String Quartet: Have You Ever Been . . . (Telarc/Ode)

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Turtle Island String Quartet: House Burning Down
Turtle Island String Quartet: Have You Ever Been . . . (Telarc/Ode)

Classical artists playing the music of Jimi Hendrix is hardly a new idea: the Kronos Quartet had a crowd-pleasing built-in encore of Purple Haze when they first started out, and of course Nigel Kennedy finally made good on his threat/promise to do an album of Hendrix.

Before them however in the mid Seventies Gil Evans arranged some Hendrix material for his orchestra and a subsequent album.

Hendrix -- despite the apparent free-form nature of his playing which Miles Davis simply couldn't figure -- wrote memorable melodies (Angel, Voodoo Chile, Little Wing and dozens of others).

Here the Turtle Island Quartet -- who have long played Hendrix material at festivals -- turn their attention to two brackets of Hendrix tunes (and those like Hey Joe and All Along the Watchtower which he is associated with) and these bookend the central section which is leader David Balakrishnan's Tree of Life in four movements. There is also treatment of John McLaughlin's To Bop Or Not To Be from his '06 album Industrial Zen.

Tree of Life was inspired by the 150th anniversary last year of Darwin's On the Origin of Species and, perhaps given the familiarity of the Hendrix tunes (to which they play a fairly straight bat mimicking his slides and stutters) it is that which comes off the fresher and more interesting.

The mysterious quality in places here -- some slight sense of menace or impending drama -- stand as fascinating counterpoint to the more sprightly passages.

This is not to say the Hendrix tracks don't have much going for them -- his music seems surprisingly easy to reinterpret in this genre -- but of course how could a string quartet even approach the firepower of Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) or All Along the Watchtower?

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