At the peak of his creative powers in the late 1960s, Jimi Hendrix redefined the potential of not only the guitar but the entire genre of rock. Armed with an unprecedented combination of technical skills and compositional insight, he drew a blueprint that continues to challenge guitarists in particular and musicians of all stripes more than four decades later.
In many ways, Turtle Island Quartet – led by founding violinist David Balakrishnan, a Hendrix fan since his teenage years – has taken Hendrix’s cue in the course of their 25-year career by reexamining and reconstructing conventional genres of music and seeking new permutations of style, technique and composition. This ongoing mission of exploration and innovation was most recently exemplified in their Grammy winning 2007 recording, A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane, in which the quartet reinterprets the music of one of the most pivotal figures in the history of jazz by injecting it with their own signature rhythmic innovations and multicultural influences.
Three years later, TIQ – whose current lineup includes Balakrishnan along with co-founder cellist Mark Summer, violinist Mads Tolling and newcomer violist Jeremy Kittel – pushes the edge of their stylistic comfort zone a step further with their latest recording, Have You Ever Been…?, an exploration of the music of Hendrix coupled with a cross genre twist on an old story, Balakrishnan’s Tree Of Life. “…A stellar recording and achievement,” says guitarist Andy Summers, one of the many high-profile heirs to the Hendrix legacy through his work with the Police and beyond, and author of the liner notes to Have You Ever Been…?
The genesis of Have You Ever Been…? can be traced back to the two Hendrix concerts at the L.A. Forum – one in 1969 and the other in 1970 – that Balakrishnan attended as a teenager. Within days, he was practicing Hendrix guitar riffs on his violin. Decades later, around the time of the release of A Love Supreme, Balakrishnan visited the Woodstock Museum in Bethel, New York, and watched a video of Hendrix’s legendary performances at the three-day rock festival in 1969 that defined a generation.
“Watching him reminded me of what a genius he was,” says Balakrishnan. “He was this great icon of that generation, but underneath all that, he was a brilliant and completely innovative composer. He was putting things together that nobody had ever conceived before, and he completely changed the way we think about the guitar.”
“I was so deeply influenced by Hendrix as a kid, in fact it is what inspired me to get 'off the page' so to speak,” states Balakrishnan. He explains that this influence has made its way into his own compositions, most notably incorporating the “Hendrix chord” (7th sharp 9) into many of his original works. “Tree of Life provides a nice sub theme of Have You Ever Been…?” Balakrishnan continues. “Plus, it is strongly conceived through composed music that can serve as an anchor to balance the freer, more pop-styled nature of the Hendrix material.”
“Translating the music of Jimi Hendrix’s visceral electric guitar music into the vernacular of the classical string quartet seems like an improbable idea,” Andy Summers goes on to say, “Yet on this remarkable recording, the Turtle Island Quartet…has once again hit what at first might seem a difficult target. A salute to the quartet for giving us a vigorous and scintillating reworking of the music of Jimi Hendrix.”