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TURTLE ISLAND STRING QUARTET MAKES `MAGIC’ WHILE IN S.L.

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Turtle Island String Quartet, Brown Bag Twilight Series, Thursday night, Salt Lake Art Center, one performance only.

What can you call the music of Turtle Island String Quartet?The dynamic young musicians, based in Oakland, Calif., play two violins (Darol Anger and David Balakrishnan), a cello (Mark Summer) and a viola (newcomer Katrina Weede). Yet they can evoke anything from an orchestra to a Mexican band, from barn dance fiddles to jazz trumpet and piano.

Several hundred Salt Lakers were amazed and delighted Thursday night when the Quartet made their Utah debut, performing as part of the Brown Bag Twilight Series.

The free concerts, sponsored by the Salt Lake City Arts Council, are supposed to be held in the sculpture garden outside the Salt Lake Art Center. But through some weather miscalculation - the expected rain never precipitated - everybody crowded inside.

There weren't enough seats for the backsides, so some folks sat on the floor, some stood and many unfortunates were left with the hard metal folding chairs. All suffered from the heat and stuffiness indoors.

Regardless, Turtle Island's incredible string jazz made it a wonderful experience.

Take Weede's composition celebrating her life in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California - a haunt, she said, of druggies, hermits, artists and musicians. She lived for a time in a shack that was previously the abode of a crazed curmudgeon who died, called Mr. Twitty. The composition, "Mr. Twitty's Chair," was inspired by a chair of his that she kept - the original legs were removed and replacements were bolted on from another chair.

The piece proceeds fairly placidly, then goes haywire, with unstable, urgent rhythms. At times it is as creaky as the wind blowing through the shack, and then it's as weird and scary as the old man himself. Unrestrained menace lurks in Summer's deliberate, sliding solo. It ends with a startling snap.

They played piece after delightful piece, many from the CD that the group will release on the Windham Hill label in a couple of weeks: adaptations of jazz standards like "Night in Tunisia," "Stolen Moments" and "Ecaroh"; portraits of Gothic America, like "Grant Wood"; seductive Latin melodies as in "Ensenada" and "Senior Mouse"; and evocative pieces like "Variations On My Father's Footsteps."

Turtle Island has stunning, soaring duets; a violin played like a uke; cheerful music that brings a smile to the face and clapping to the hands; meditative dreams; symphonic sounds; and intense pieces that seem to improvise through decades of folk and jazz.

So what do you call their music? String-jazz fusion? Funk? Modern music? No, none of the labels seems to fit.

Call it magic.