While the Kronos Quartet cracked open the field of jazz for the once-exclusively classical string quartet, the Turtle Island String Quartet is the first whose members can actually improvise, thus giving the foursome much credibility in the jazz world. Their repertoire extends from bebop standards like "A Night in Tunisia" to Third Stream material to rock & roll treatments of Robert Johnson's Delta blues ("Crossroads"), throwing in bluegrass, South Indian ragas, and any other influences that they can latch onto — all without the crutch of a rhythm section.
Violinist/cofounder Darol Anger spent nine years (1975-1984) as a founding member of the David Grisman Quintet, which helped to open up the possibilities of jazz improvisation for stringed instruments. Just before leaving Grisman, Anger played with violinist David Balakrishnan in a four-violin group called Saheeb. Soon thereafter, the two recorded an album with jazz violinist Matt Glaser — and together with cellist Mark Summer of the Winnipeg Symphony, Anger and Balakrishnan founded the TISQ in 1985. The viola chair has been a revolving door throughout much of the group's history, filled respectively by Irene Sazer, Katrina Wreede, and Danny Seidenberg. Balakrishnan in turn was replaced in 1993 by Tracy Silverman. Their first self-titled album for Windham Hill Jazz — released in 1988 — led to several more on that label, including the soundtrack for the film Spider Dreams. In 1993, the TISQ and the Billy Taylor Trio performed Taylor's Homage, one of the more gracefully balanced classical/jazz fusions around, in concert. ~ Richard S. Ginell, Rovi