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Turtle Island String Quartet in deep water with Tierney Sutton

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 8:54 p.m.
Tierney Sutton and the Turtle Island String Quartet Credit: Bill Reitzel

Tierney Sutton and the Turtle Island String Quartet have found a philosophical agreement in their music.

Singer Sutton says she and the quartet will show more than simply an agreement on keys and tempos Friday at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side.

“It is a very purified commitment,” she says. “At its best, music gets to the core of the matter. And that is what the Turtles do. They go beyond the music and deal with the issues.”

Cellist Mark Summer, a founding member of the string quartet, agrees that working with Sutton is more than simply working with a singer. It is a job that rises to the level of “looking for the meaning that really inspires us.”

The shows at the North Side site are called “Poets & Prayers” because they look at the spiritual statements that are part of music but sometimes are lost in the enjoyment that exists otherwise. They will present music from the works of Joni Mitchell to a version of John Coltrane's “A Love Supreme” in which Sutton will sing a poem the saxophonist wrote to go with his famous song.

Sutton says the best part of this agreement is that Sutton and the quartet are so much in tune with each other they are “more like a quintet than a quartet appearing with a singer.”

She and the quartet are alike in another fashion, too. They all deal with a variety of music. Sutton works hard at doing her own versions of famous songs to new looks from the pop field. Turtle Island has moved from its New Age roots to works with mandolinist Mike Marshall or saxophone great Paquito d'Rivera.

Sutton says this teamwork has its roots in conversations she and Summer began about five years ago.

“I had listened to her ‘Dancing in the Dark' album, the tribute to Frank Sinatra, and was just amazed at her phrasing,” he says. “I thought it would be good to work together.”

The talks continued, until the business side of music began to get matters moving.

“One day, Mark said to me, ‘We may be going somewhere; our agents are talking,' ” she says.

About that time, she had been working on her version of “A Love Supreme,” so when Turtle Island violinist David Balakrishnan suggested doing “something spiritual,” Sutton proposed it.

Talks then turned to the thoughts of Joni Mitchell, and the development of arrangements for four of her tunes, including “Little Green” and “All I Want.”

Sutton says she believes the music of Mitchell is vastly underrated. Listening to Mitchell “is closer to listening to Billie Holiday than a pop singer,” she says. “Her lyrics really make her stand apart.”

She and Summer agree the five musicians all were shocked at the synchronicity of the talks about the music to perform. Both also marvel at how the music goes from “Wade in the Water” to a version of George Harrison's “Within You, Without You.”

Sutton says the range of songs shows the universality of musical thought. At its best, music does not only examine matters of life, but tries to find their meaning.

She says her Baha'i faith says music provides “wings by which the soul ascends to heaven.”

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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