We are the first human beings in history to have so much of man’s culture and previous experience available for our study, and being free enough of the weight of traditional cultures to seek out a larger identity; the first members of a civilized society since the Neolithic to wish to look clearly into the eyes of the wild and see our self-hood, our family, there.
—Gary Snyder “Four Changes” Turtle Island, 1975
Thirty-eight years ago, four American string players formed a quartet with the express purpose of melding the wide range of music performed in North America, both past and present. To honor the significant lineage of these musical traditions and the profound relationship between them, the quartet borrowed an “old/new name for the continent, based on many creation myths of the people who have been here for millennia.” “Turtle Island” is the origin story shared by many First Nation people of the Eastern Woodlands, where it is said that the entire continent of North America was built from soil placed on the back of a great Turtle. This myth has inspired a unifying bond between many tribes.
Since its inception, the Turtle Island Quartet has undergone many transformations. Just in the last year, they have begun transitioning from an ensemble that features a hybrid of arranged standards and new repertoire, such as the group’s recent Bird’s Eye View, to an original music ensemble. To commemorate their new identity, the quartet, resident composer and violinist David Balakrishnan with violinist Gabriel Terracciano, violist Benjamin von Gutzeit and cellist Naseem Alatrash, has taken on an ambitious, multi-composer commission. Island Prayers will celebrate the range of influences within the rich cultural spectrum of the continent “Turtle Island.” The group has identified four (4) venerable and accomplished composers with varying life experiences and musical foundations:
1. Six-time GRAMMY®-award winner and double Oscar® Nominee Terence Blanchard is a genre-defining voice with a gargantuan range of work. Unlike any artist before him, Blanchard has graced the very top of every list with fans and critics alike– film scores with Spike Lee, Regina King, George Lucas and Kasi Lemmons; having his operas featured at the Metropolitan Opera, Washington National, Chicago Lyric and Opera Theater of Saint Louis and his jazz projects with legends like Herbie Hancock, Art Blakey and Wayne Shorter– there is no parallel to Terence Oliver Blanchard.
2. MacArthur Genius Fellow, Singer and Banjo player Rhiannon Giddens draws her influence from her education and virtuosity in western classical music and from studying foundational traditions such as the Griot of Mali to inform her raw execution of bluegrass and other American roots music from Tidewater and Appalachia. Giddens is the current artistic director of the Silk Road Ensemble and her her first opera, Omar, won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize.
3. New Music USA Composer-in-Residence and Joyce Award Winner Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate is no stranger to composing for major ensembles— Impichchaachaaha has written for San Francisco Symphony and Chorus, ETHEL, National Symphony and Dallas Symphony, just to name a few. Impichchaachaaha is also a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation; their stomp dances implore the shaking of turtle shells among many traditions involving the turtle & Turtle Island.
4. GRAMMY®-award winning Turtle Island Quartet founder, composer in residence and violinist David Balakrishnan has been preparing for this project his entire life. Beginning in his early career when he formed this world-famous quartet to now, Balakrishnan’s eclectic compositions and arrangements have defined an entire genre of chamber music.
Terence Blanchard featuring the E-Collective and the Turtle Island Quartet
Wayne Shorter’s evolution as an artist is vast & unending. Performing with and composing for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis Second Great Quintet naturally led to the formation of his own legendary groups—first Weather Report, then his musically unparalleled quartet. With Shorter’s career now focused solely on composing, his musical greatness has set the table for his protégé to carry his music forward to the next generation. In this new recording project, Absence, 2018 USA Fellow, two-time Oscar® nominee, and five-time GRAMMY®-winning trumpeter & composer Terence Blanchard celebrates both the brilliance of Shorter’s legacy and the inspiration he has given Blanchard, influencing his ever-expanding amalgam of music and storytelling.
For this monumental task, Blanchard unites his internationally acclaimed band The E-Collective, featuring young musical pioneers Charles Altura on guitar, Fabian Almazan on piano and synthesizers, Oscar Seaton on drums, and David “DJ” Ginyard on bass, with the double-GRAMMY®-winning Turtle Island Quartet.
The repertoire includes arrangements of Shorter’s original work, including “Diana” from Native Dancer and “When It Was Now” from Weather Report’s 1982 self-titled release. Blanchard’s compositions continue to expand on the reservoir of E-Collective tunes, utilizing a string quartet that is uniquely equipped for the full range of color and expression of the Blanchard sonic & stylistic sphere. Original compositions from the band include new contributions from Almazan, and for the first time on a recording, Ginyard. A heart-stopping string quartet work titled “Second Wave,” written by Turtle Island’s own David Balakrishnan, perfectly rounds out the recording.
Absence is a Blue Note® release, co-produced by manager and SONY alumna Robin Burgess in Fall of 2021, coinciding with Blanchard’s second opera, Fire Shut Up In My Bones opening the Metropolitan Opera’s season. This new album honors the past, present and future of Wayne Shorter.