"A Flower is a Lovesome Thing" is an unusual name for a program from a unique musical group, the Turtle Island Quartet and Nellie McKay which performed last Sunday afternoon at The Arts Center at Iowa Western Community College.
Turtle Island Quartet is not your normal string quartet. With influences from many countries such as Poland where violinist, Mateusz Smoczynski studied and lives; India where violinist, David Balakrishnan's father was born; Mark Summer, the cellist, whose experience and expertise has allowed him to perform with numerous musicians throughout the world; and from the viola player, Benjamin von Gutzeit whose musical German family has assisted with his classical and jazz work.
When these four get together, they do not perform classical string quartet music but utilize music traditionally played by big bands, rock groups, or brass and jazz artists and play the music their way, with their personal improvisations and musical adaptations creating a completely different sound for any string quartet and even including music by Bob Dylan and Jimmy Hendricks.
When the Turtle Island Quartet performed, their music was a modernistic fusion of many jazz and rock songs utilizing improvisation with their instruments and doubling as percussion.
Nellie McKay started her part of the show with the old time favorite, “Sentimental Journey” accompanying herself on the piano. Throughout the show while not always singing, she also played the ukulele and the marimba.
The combination of their music selections often gave a feelings of music from the 1920s due to the texture of Nellie's voice and that some of their selections were original songs from that time period, but you could not categorize the music into any one particular genre.
From music with a Caribbean flavor, to literally a song about a dog including the panting, to Broadways musicals with flavors of South Pacific and Guys and Dolls, to music of India, fun and funny songs, and big band sound on strings making the Turtle Island Quartet obvious why they have won Grammy Awards for their crossover music.
Unquestionably, their sound and music is different, even a little quirky. Usually songs from Broadway musicals played with an accompaniment of major seconds is a disaster, but it worked while Nellie McKay sang the melody. At first their music seems bizarre, but it is truly amazing how all these musicians create new harmonies with a unique texture for the voicing with their instrument.
The Turtle Island Quartet and Nellie McKay are musicians I would like to hear more from in the future. At first, their style is a little uncomfortable, but well worth listening to this creative form of music. For those who were not able to attend their concert, you definitely will want to purchase their CDs to see how you like this form of alternative music.