Trust the Turtle Island String Quartet to bridge the gap between Miles Davis and Mozart. For the past 20 years, the veteran ensemble has been teasing out unexpected connections between disparate musical forms.
That two violins, a viola and a cello could make sense of the jazz trumpeter's ``Kind of Blue'' repertoire won't surprise fans of the Bay Area foursome. The Turtle Island String Quartet dragged their previously sedate classical form into the 21st century a long time ago.
Since the mid-1980s, they've wowed audiences with lively performances that show that the strings can not only swing, they can groove to be-bop funk, new age, hip-hop, salsa, bluegrass, even classical Indian rhythms.
The quartet performs two concerts in Eugene next week, one that pays tribute to Davis, the other a lively dialogue with the Ying Quartet, a popular Chicago-based ensemble.
The group is looking forward to the Eugene dates, said cellist Mark Summer, in a telephone interview from Lamoni, Iowa, where the group was performing last week.
The quartet briefly considered relocating here several years ago, and its founder David Balakrishnan wrote an orchestral composition for former Eugene Symphony conductor Marin Alsop that had its debut in Eugene in 1995.
Turtle Island got its start in the mid-'80s when Balakrishnan was working on a master's thesis that sought to stretch the boundaries of the previously sedate chamber music.
Members of the quartet have changed over the years, but cellist Summer and violinist Balakrishnan have been mainstays. Violinist Evan Price and violist Mads Tolling round out the group.
The jazz string quartet has made famous such standards as "A Night in Tunisia" and "Stolen Moments."
Summer loved the music from the get-go. As a kid he dabbled in all kinds of music, studied piano, guitar, even played the drums, but his father and music teachers hounded him to play the cello and as an adult he wound up with a job playing for the symphony in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
When a friend talked him into sitting in with jazz players at a Winnipeg club called the Blue Note, Summer fell in love with the music.
When he later met and began playing with Balakrishnan, they found that audiences loved the musical transformation.
``We came out and played the jazz standard `All of Me.' You could feel the audience start to loosen up.''
Turtle Island uses unusual bowing to mimic the sounds of other instruments, taking the bluegrass technique of choping down with the bow to get a sound like a rhythm guitar, damping the strings with the left hand for percussive sounds.
Other classical musicians use these tricks to add texture, said Summer. Turtle Island's trying to work up a groove.
"To have that feeling that makes you want to dance," he said.
The quartet has collaborated with other musicians over the years, most recently with Latin jazz clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera, who appears on their recording ``Danzon.'' The CD includes two jazz classics "On Green Dolphin Street" and a haunting version of "Girl from Ipanima" that merges nicely with P.I. Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique Symphony."
Their Eugene ties also show in a recent collaboration with blues guitarist Robert Cray. Turtle Island adds depth to two songs on Cray's new CD "Time Will Tell."
Wednesday's concert is a tribute to Davis. Thursday's collaboration with the Ying Quartet will slide between traditional chamber music to Irish jigs with a momentary lapse into James Brown "I Feel Good" Territory.
Watch for a new recording from the group, due out in February and titled ``4 Plus Four.''
Three concerts by Turtle Island String Quartet and the Ying Quartet
Wednesday: Turtle Island String Quartet pays homage to Miles Davis at the Hult Center's Soreng Theatre, 7:30 p.m. Tickets, $26 to $35, available at the Hult Center box office, by calling 682-5000 or at www.hultcenter.org
Thursday: The quartet performs with Ying Quartet in Beall Hall at the University of Oregon, 961 E. 18th Ave., 8 p.m. Tickets $12 to $29, available at the Hult Center or the university. Call 682-5000 or 346-4363.
In Corvallis: The Ying Quartet performs Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Oregon State University LaSells Stewart Center. Tickets, $5 to $20, are available at the Grass Roots Bookstore in Corvallis, Sid Stevens in Albany or at the door.
The Turtle Island String Quartet comprises (from left) cellist Mark Summer, founder and violinist David Balakrishnan, violist Mads Tolling and violinist Evan Price. Ying Quartet will play Wednesday in Corvallis, while the Turtle Island String Quartet is playing in Eugene. Then on Thursday the two groups will play a joint concert at Beall Hall in Eugene. Ying Quartet comprises four siblings (from left) cellist David, violist Phillip, and violinists Janet and Timothy Ying.