- A & E
- Science & Tech
In a world premiere starting at Weber State University, the Turtle Island Quartet is pairing up with Michael Doucet. Doucet is a Cajun artist who has been recognized by the National Heritage Fellowship and National Endowment for the Arts for earmarking classic folk music, incorporating Western swing, 1930s string band music and bluegrass, as well as Creole and Cajun gypsy jazz styles together.
This world premiere ensemble will explore even more, including Afro-Cajun and Cubano influences. The Turtle Island Quartet is no stranger to combining styles or awards: two Grammy nominations and awards for Best Classical Crossover Album for “4 + Four” (2006) and “A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane“ (2008), which also celebrated the music of Jimi Hendrix.
Doucet has his own touring band named BeauSoleil. Mark Summer, one of the founding members of the Turtle Island Quartet, said the actual commitment to doing a tour with Doucet started about a year and half ago.
“We talked with Michael quite a bit . . . trying to figure out when we could get together (since) he’s on the road all the time. It’s a wonderful opportunity to finally get this concert together to play together. . . . It’s a lot of BeauSoleil’s music, and a lot of Michael’s music and mixing it in with a lot of arranged music.”
The concert world premiere will include Turtle Island’s own eclectic sounds, Doucet’s music and arrangements of composer Virgil Thompson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning score for the 1948 film “Louisiana Story.”
“One thing’s for sure: It will give birth to a new ensemble,” Summer said. “It’ll be a big sound.”
Back in the ’80s, Summer quit his job with a Canadian-based orchestra to come check out the music scene in Los Angeles, where he paired up in 1985 with David Balakrishnan. Summer credited Balakrishnan, a master’s graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, as “having this idea to blend all these different styles of fiddle music, and jazz, rock and roll, Indian music and other stuff, and classical music.”
Though they are classically trained musicians, Summer indicated that classical is the least of what they play. Mateusz Smoczynki, on violin, and Benjamin von Gutzeit, on viola, are recently incorporated musicians to the group.
The Turtle Island Quartet’s beginnings with Doucet were back in 1988, when Doucet invited the group to the annual American Francophone Festival in his hometown of Lafayette, La.
“We’ve been friends with Doucet for a very long time,” Summer said. “One of our very first concerts we played in Lafayette with him . . . we had a talk, and we’ve been friends ever since.”
Summer is often called upon to treat his cello as a bass, but said of the entire quartet, “We’re all creating percussive elements, imitating the sound of drums, electric guitar and piano. . . . we’re playing all the parts . . . we’re imitating the sound of a jazz combo, creating the whole sound of a jazz band, or, in this case, the whole sound of a Cajun band, with Michael Doucet, a master Cajun fiddler.”
Summer conceded that the combination of artists will rehearse madly together upon arriving in Ogden, but said that, prior to this, they really only have had two opportunities to rehearse together, once in California and once in New York.
“But the arrangements are really good, and the quartet’s been working on them ourselves, and we’ve made recordings of what the quartet’s been doing so Michael knows what we’re doing. But yeah, there’s been a lot of back and forth working it out. For the audience, when you bring these different ensembles together, there’s a certain energy, and sparks can fly, and you’ll hear everyone get a chance at solos.”
“Louisiana Story: Turtle Island Quartet with Michael Doucet” will come to the Browning Center’s Austad Auditorium tonight at 7:30. Tickets can be obtained through the Dee Events Center, the Browning Center or www.weberstatetickets.com.