Mads Tolling Quartet
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Mads Tolling Quartet

Albany, California, United States | MAJOR | AFM

Albany, California, United States | MAJOR | AFM
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"Jazz CD Mads Tolling The Playmaker"

Jazz Offhand, I can't think of very many jazz instrumental compositions dedicated to NFL quarterbacks and other sports figures. Then again, Danish-born violinist Mads Tolling defies predictability through his 11-cut sophomore CD, "The Playmaker," whose "Playmaker Suite" (dedicated to Tom Brady, retired French footballer Zinedine Zidane and basketball's LeBron James) probes the connections he sees between sports and music. Tolling, who is a member of the Turtle Island Quartet and a soloist with bassist Stanley Clarke's band, gathers guest artists Clarke, keyboardist Russell Ferrante and vibraphonist Stefon Harris to explore a wide variety of styles on the new CD, from a beautifully elaborate arrangement of Thom Yorke's "Just," to a sizzling take on Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog," to the Danish folk song "I Skovens Dybe Stille Ro." The album is marked with virtuosic moments of sublime, genre-busting string work by Tolling, with stellar contributions by his guest artists and guitarist Mike Abraham, drummers Eric Garland and Jeff Mars, and bassist George Ban-Weiss.
-Dave Wiegand - San Francisco Chronicle

"CD review"

The Playmaker (Madsman 01) 60:51 he exhibits a restraint that would have been at home in Corea's original Return to Forever. Oh, yeah, he can also play a nasty version of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog". With dedication to superstar musicians and sports heroes - as well as stars like Stanley Clarke and Stefon Harris in featured spots - Tolling is nothing if not eclectic. His second recording marks him as someone to watch. - Downbeat Magazine

"CD review: Mads Tolling's 'The Playmaker'"

No doubt some jazz fans unfamiliar with violinist Mads Tolling's background -- he is best known for his stints with the Turtle Island Quartet and a recent edition of bassist-fusion pioneer Stanley Clarke's band -- will be put off by a few tune choices on his new CD, "The Playmaker." But probably not for long. With his honed technique, vigorous attack and engaging brand of swing, Tolling makes a convincing case that songs associated with Radiohead ("Just") and Led Zeppelin ("Black Dog") can colorfully bookend a collection of pieces composed by Thelonious Monk, drawn from Danish folk song traditions or inspired by the likes of James Brown, John McLaughlin and Jaco Pastorius. And let's not forget the Tolling-penned "Playmaker" tributes to ball players Tom Brady, Zinedine Zidane and LeBron James.

Of course, Tolling, a native of Denmark, doesn't pull off this trick without help from an impressive supporting cast. In the album's liner notes, he explains that "in sports, the playmaker's role is to facilitate his teammates, and in music it's kind of the same thing." The lineup includes bassist Clarke, vibraphonist Stefon Harris and keyboardist Russell Ferrante and Tolling consistently benefits from their input. Yet while there's sufficient firepower to fuel the rock covers, the album's highlights often find Tolling and company nimbly exploring swing, ballads and blues.

-- Mike Joyce - Washington Post

"Music We Missed: Mads Tolling's Violin Fusion"

December 30, 2009 - There's a new album which begins with a song by Thom Yorke, originally written for his rock band Radiohead. But this version of "Just" comes from a San Francisco Bay Area jazz musician.

Mads Tolling is a virtuosic violin player. His 2009 record is called The Playmaker.

Tolling is best known for his work with the adventurous Turtle Island Quartet, a string ensemble. With that group and on his own, Tolling delights in breaking down musical barriers. The Quartet won a Grammy for its take on John Coltrane's A Love Supreme.

And Tolling's new jazz record begins and ends with rock tunes, covering lots of musical ground along the way. Tolling says this kind of music — "crossover" — used to have a bad reputation.

"Crossover used to be Pavarotti singing 'If I Were a Rich Man' or something," he says. "Or people really crossing over not really knowing the other styles. Now, more and more, with all these great musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma and Bela Fleck integrating different styles and playing them really well together, I don't think there are any boundaries for what you can do."

The track "Starmaker Machinery" is an original dedicated to the jazz-fusion guitarist John McLaughlin. Tolling also performs a Thelonious Monk tune, as well as a version of a Danish folk song called "I Skovens Dybe Stille Ro."

Discovering Jazz

Tolling, now 29, grew up in Denmark and studied classical music as a child. Then, as a teenager, he discovered Miles Davis.

"And I started listening to it, and I couldn't put it down, I was so drawn to it," Tolling says. "It was something about the intimacy and space. And I needed to find a way to play that on my instrument, which is the violin."

Tolling started by imitating horn solos. As he got into it, he discovered a long tradition of jazz musicians playing the violin.

But still, he says, jazz is not a easy business to break into if you show up with a fiddle.

"When you go to a jam session, people look kind of funny at you, that you are going to be playing violin on a jazz jam session," Tolling says. "So there is a bit of stigma with the strings, and violin in particular, but you've just got to do it. And when people know you, it becomes a little bit of a novelty, too, which is fun."

Tolling says jazz crowds love his cover of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog." After all, he says, everyone knows Led Zeppelin: It's universal music. And that's the kind of music he wants to celebrate.
- NPR Morning Edition

"Hard Work got Mads Tolling to Turtle Island"

February 5, 2009
By: Jesse Hamlin

Mads Tolling cheerfully admits it: He lied.

"But it was a white lie," says the brilliant young Danish violinist, who'd never picked up a viola until David Balakrishnan of Turtle Island Quartet called him in 2003 to ask if he wanted to audition for the group and if he'd ever played viola. Tolling said yes to both, got an instrument and "practiced my ass off for 10 days," he says with a laugh.
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That's all the time he had to prepare for his audition in Puebla, Mexico. After a second date in Bremen, Germany, the other musicians were sufficiently impressed to offer him a permanent chair in the Bay Area string quartet. "If playing the violin is like driving, playing the viola is like driving through snow," says Tolling, who now plays violin in Turtle Island, an improvising ensemble fluent in the language of Brahms and bop, Indian ragas and American folk and rock. He's won two Grammys with the quartet, including the 2008 Classical Crossover prize for "A Love Supreme - the Legacy of John Coltrane."

Tolling is also featured in electric bassist Stanley Clarke's rocking fusion band, and leads his own grooving quartet with guitarist Mike Abraham, bassist George Ban-Weiss and drummer Eric Garland, which plays Yoshi's in Oakland on Monday. They'll do some of the songs from Tolling's latest CD - including some Americana informed by Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny - Cannonball Adderley's "Work Song," Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" and a sublime solo meditation on the Miles Davis-Bill Evans classic "Blue in Green" that moves from Bach-like cadenzas to dancing country fiddling.

"Growing up in Europe, I knew nothing about fiddle music," says Tolling, 28, sitting on the deck of his hilltop Albany apartment, which has an expansive view of the Berkeley hills. A gracious guy with classic Scandinavian good looks, he studied classical music from an early age and made money playing Danish and Swedish folk songs on the street with his violin-playing sister. "It wasn't until I was 20, when I moved to Boston to study jazz at Berklee (College of Music), that I started hearing all these fiddlers. I was like, 'What's that?' " says Tolling, who studied for a spell at Copenhagen's marvelously named Rhythmic Conservatory, home to jazz and pop.
Fiddle skills

A gifted improviser and arranger with a keen sense of harmony and a beautiful tone, Tolling picked up a lot of fiddle techniques - the shuffle bow and the percussion trick called the chop - working with Turtle Island. "I love combining fiddle techniques with jazz, because you can create amazing grooves and amazing-sounding things for violin that you can't create on any other instrument," says Tolling, who flipped for jazz at 14 when his father played him a cassette of Davis doing "Autumn Leaves." The intimacy of it got to him. "You can cry when you listen to that. Jazz was all I wanted to listen to."

He dug into Miles and Coltrane and then the jazz violinists - Stephane Grappelli, Stuff Smith and his fellow Dane Svend Asmussen. Tolling gigged around Copenhagen and landed a part in a Danish TV miniseries set in the 1940s, playing Danish jazz violinist Finn Ziegler. He could've made a career for himself in Denmark, but wanted to push himself and study at Berklee with people like saxophonist Joe Lovano and pianist JoAnne Brackeen. Tolling was also tutored there by violinist Matt Glaser, who recommended him to Turtle Island. Clarke hired him at the suggestion of the wired-up French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty.

Tolling also works locally with the English jazz-and-rock pianist Terry Disley, who raves about him. "Most classically trained violinists that attempt to play jazz sound like they were influenced heavily by Stephane Grappelli," Disley says. "Mads, however, sounds like he comes out of Charlie Parker and Coltrane as well as being influenced by rock. A very contemporary sound. He's one of a new breed of improvisers and one hell of a musician."

When he's not making music, Tolling likes to hike the hills of Marin. A decade ago, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with his family. His mother and sister couldn't make it beyond 14,000 feet, but he and his father reached the volcano's summit. "I'd never climbed a mountain before," Tolling says. "Denmark's highest point is 400 feet. It was very humbling."
Keeping fresh

He prefers scaling musical heights. "I want to come out with music that turns people's heads," says Tolling, who deftly integrates solos and group improvisation into his written arrangements, shifting stylistic gears as he goes. "I always try to come up with different colors and schemes so as a listener, you never feel, 'Oh, I've heard that, they're going to repeat that.' I try to create a groove and interest and sound melodic at the same time. It's a challenge, but that's what I love to do." - SF Chronicle

"Mads Tolling Quartet Fires Up Oakland Venue Yoshi's with Furious Sound"

February 12, 2009
By: Nick Moore

Billed confidently as "Denmark's violin prodigy," relatively unknown bandleader Mads Tolling had, by Monday night's end, reduced a decidedly middle-aged Yoshi's crowd to a wooping, hollering mass of newfound disciples. Taking the stage, Mads and his quartet-comprised of guitarist Mike Abraham, bassist George Ban-Weiss and drummer Eric Garland-appeared, clad in dark jeans and dress shirts with two classical instruments in hand, ready to indulge the audience in a quiet night of, well, something quiet. But what followed was a performance best characterized by its fury and volume.

Beginning the show with a nervous crack about the frigid temperature backstage, Mads and his bandmates launched suddenly into a fiery show that produced plenty of heat. More jazz-fusion than classical, the quartet's sound was something most people hadn't heard before, judging by the change in audience reception from the band's introduction to its gracious final bow. Opening its set with the sweet, country-flavored and aptly titled tune "Danish Dessert," the quartet thrived when nourishing Mads' blissful melodies but struggled in other moments, at least early on. The lead violin riffs that guided-and primarily differentiated-each song inevitably dissolved into improvisational no man's lands, during which the band strained to find its collective mojo. The solution lied, as it often does, with a big, bad beast of an instrument: the bass.

George Ban-Weiss' switch from acoustic to electric bass occurred before the third song, "The Chicken." Thumping the thick strings with newfound vigor, Ban-Weiss did a solid impression of legendary bassist Jaco Pastorius, who made famous the heavy, bass-driven funk jam. Ban-Weiss stayed electric for the remainder of the show, and having this more forceful third set of strings seemed to settle the band and allow guitarist Mike Abraham's sonic wanderings a greater range of freedom. On songs like "Speed of Light," Abraham and Tolling essentially battled for supremacy, the only victor being an increasingly grateful audience. As the set progressed, an initially staid crowd became more demonstrative, even affectionate, rewarding every solo by the young band with enthusiastic applause. Mads' solo on "Star-maker Machinery" brought the house down and rightly so. Poised like an athlete, legs apart, knees bent, he pumped his arm with an insatiable fury, waxing the sorry strings like a man possessed.

Even in the slower moments, the band held the audience transfixed. Softer numbers, like the Danish folk song "Peaceful Quiet of the Forest," allowed for a more subtle interplay between instruments, especially guitar and violin. While Mads' instrumental dexterity lent itself to any tempo, the softer tunes gave Abraham occasion to stretch out, interspersing wandering jazz leads with blue staccato and filling the small, dim theater with warm vibrato. His employment of modest feedback, a harmonic technique not often heard at Yoshi's, seemed to confirm that this night was unlike your typical one at the legendary Oakland jazz club.

Not to be ignored were the melodic embellishments of Ban-Weiss and Garland, on bass and drums, whose closing duel established the pair as perfect rhythmic partners. But besides being a virtuoso, mastering the absorbed head sway must have been a requirement for joining the band. None of the musicians so much as glanced toward the audience all night, conveying a sense that their focus was on the music and not the crowd. Completely engrossed in their complex rhythmic relationships, the four seemed wholly invested in the idea that their performance went deeper than simply entertainment but entered the realm of art-something challenging, for both audience and band. - The Daily Californian

"Spin of the Week"

By Greg Cahill
October 16, 2008

Mads Tolling has a rich background as a string player. He’s a two-time Grammy–winning violinist with the Turtle Island Quartet (a position the onetime Turtle Island violist assumed last year after the departure of Evan Price). He studied under the legendary Scandinavian jazz violinist Svend Asmussen. And he performs as a member of jazz-fusion bass great Stanley Clarke’s band. This trio outing—produced by Tolling and engineered, recorded, and mixed by former Turtle Island member Price—ranges from six impressive Tolling originals to covers of tunes by Clarke, avant-folk-jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, and Led Zeppelin. Tolling has a real gift for blending an unaffected folksy sound with sparse jazz licks that are the perfect complement to the atmospheric ambiance that grace most of these tracks. While Tolling is skilled at evoking a beautiful melody, he’s equally adept at filling out the sound with powerful double-stops and intricate harmonics as he does on his sensational solo rendition of Davis’ jazz classic “Blue in Green,” filtered here through a Bach-inflected lens. Other highlights include Frisell’s “Godson Song” and Clarke’s “Song to John.” Tolling is aided by the ace bassist George Ban-Weiss and the always impressive guitarist Mike Abraham. Available at - Strings Magazine

"Mads Tolling Trio"

Feb 17, 2008

Violinist Mads Tolling has a lot of nerve. Enough, at least, to name his new self-released CD, whose release brings his trio to Anna's Jazz Island, The Speed of Light. It's a title that would sound boastful if it didn't accurately describe just how astonishingly fast this young jazz violin virtuoso can play. A native of Denmark, he's already made a name for himself playing stateside with celebrated acts like Stanley Clarke and the Turtle Island String Quartet. Now, as a bandleader, he'll showcase not just his flying bow and creatively nimble improvisation but also his eclectic arrangements, with the always-killing rhythm section of bassist George Ban-Weiss and guitarist Mike Abraham. (Dina Maccabee) - San Francisco Bay Guardian

"Turtle Islanders play Coltrane"

By Don Heckman
May 19, 2007 in print edition E-6

A string quartet – even one with the jazz credentials of the Turtle Island Quartet – might seem to be the last source for a program of John Coltrane’s music.

But the group’s appearance Thursday at the Jazz Bakery, supporting the recent release of its Telarc CD “A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane,” was a sterling example of first-rate jazz music-making, whatever the instrumentation.

Despite the Coltrane focus, the evening opened with a jaunty romp through Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” Anyone doubting that a string quartet, sans rhythm section, can swing as hard as any traditionally instrumented jazz group quickly learned it can. Especially when the jazz attributes spring from the individual talents of players as skilled as violinists Evan Price and David Balakrishnan, violist Mads Tolling and cellist Mark Summer.

The sounds of Coltrane initially surfaced in tunes associated with his extraordinary soloing (“A Night in Tunisia,” ” ‘Round Midnight”) as well as his own composition “Moments Notice,” delivered in a particularly propulsive arrangement by Summer.

The soloing was superb, with the members offering contrasting qualities: clarity and precision from Price’s focused lines; dark, bop-driven passions from Balakrishnan; horn-like phrasing from Tolling; and startlingly virtuosic, scour-the-instrument passages from Summer.

The piece de resistance was Coltrane’s classic, four-movement work, “A Love Supreme.” Although the piece has been reinterpreted many ways since it was recorded in the ’60s (including “A Guitar Supreme” by Larry Coryell, Mike Stern and others, and a CD/DVD version by Branford Marsalis), the Turtle Islanders’ take is unique. Balakrishnan’s thoughtful arrangement recalled passages from Coltrane’s original solos while creating lush textures and whirlwind rhythms underscoring both the musical and the spiritual complexities of the original composition.

The set concluded with bassist Stanley Clarke’s tribute to Coltrane, “Song to John,” played in a complex but musically gripping arrangement by Tolling. The result was a blending of sheer technical virtuosity with the lift and spontaneity of exploratory jazz – the appropriate climax for a performance inspired by one of the music’s most virtuosic and adventurous artists. - LA Times

"The Toys of Men"

The Toys of Men
Stanley Clarke | Heads Up International (2007)
By John Kelman

Stanley Clarke’s influence continues to be felt long past his 1970s glory days as a member of pianist Chick Corea’s flagship fusion group Return to Forever and as a solo artist whose School Days (Epic, 1976) remains required listening for any aspiring electric bassist. In the intervening years, despite the occasional high profile gig, he’s been more heavily involved in soundtrack work and solo albums that, while pleasant enough pop/jazz, have never quite lived up to the promise of those early years.
Until now. The Toys of Men is a mature work from an artist who’s got nothing left to prove, and is the closest thing to a fusion album Clarke’s released since the inconsistent collaborative effort Vertú (Epic, 1999). A far more satisfying disc, it’s a career consolidation of sorts, with Clarke also delivering a series of lyrical solo acoustic bass miniatures, referencing past efforts while, at the same time, playing with considerably more restraint.
That’s not to say there aren’t some serious chops happening. “Bad Asses” is five minutes of string-slapping, groove jamming with drummer Ronald Bruner Jr., a no less impressive player who is part of the core quintet that’s featured on much of The Toys of Men, while “El Bajo Negro” is nearly eight minutes of Clarke alone on prepared and tuned acoustic bass, flexing the muscle and dexterity that brought him to attention in the first place, even before he’d picked up an electric instrument.
Elsewhere, he channels a 1970s fusion vibe on the powerful “Châteauvallon 1972.” Reminiscent of a less raw Mahavishnu Orchestra despite it being a mere trio with keyboardist Rusian Sirota, it’s Bruner whose energetic playing defines a track appropriately dedicated to the late Tony Williams. The up-tempo funk of “Come On,” with the full quintet, including violinist Mads Tolling and guitarist Jef Lee Johnson, alludes back to School Days but is cleaner and, with Tolling a dominant voice, also reminiscent of Jean-Luc Ponty’s more finessed fusion, while “Game” is a brief but visceral piece of greasy funk.
Even the softer tracks—the romantic “Jerusalem” and radio-friendly “All Over Again,” featuring vocalist Esperanza Spalding (who proved herself no slouch on bass either at the 2007 Montreal Jazz Festival)—avoid feeling like sell-outs.
But it’s the eleven-minute, six-part title track which opens the disc that makes it clear Stanley Clarke is back. Harkening, at times, to RTF’s Romantic Warrior (Columbia, 1976), it’s an epic fusion piece that’s another feature for Tolling, whose brief but fiery exchanges with Bruner make both players worth following.
What makes The Toys of Men so rewarding is the way that Clarke successfully brings back the characteristics that made him such a dominant force in the 1970s, tempered with, perhaps, an older and wiser viewpoint. In a year where another fusion legend, John McLaughlin, has hit the road with some of his most lyrical playing ever, Clarke’s return with an equally balanced form of fusion is just as welcome.
Published Oct 23, 2007

- All About Jazz

"Play it again, Mads"

August 14, 2009
By: Greg Cahill

"One of the reasons I'm intrigued by the concept of team work is that I'm a huge sports fan," says Mads Tolling, a violinist in the two-time Grammy-winning Turtle Island Quartet and leader of an eponymous chamber-jazz quartet. "I grew up playing golf, basketball, tennis and soccer—in Denmark, where I grew up, soccer is almost a religion."

That devotion to sports is the root of The Playmaker, an upcoming album that features a newly expanded lineup (with the addition of San Francisco drummer Eric Garland), and guest stars Stanley Clarke on bass, Russell Ferrante (of the Yellowjackets) on piano and Stefon Harris on vibes. Longtime members Mike Abraham (guitar) and George Ban-Weiss (acoustic and electric bass) round out the lineup.

On The Playmaker, Tolling's quartet reprises a cover of Led Zeppelin's percussion-heavy "Black Dog," which was featured as a drumless track on Turtle Island's last album. The CD also includes a cover of the Radiohead song "Just."

"There's a bit more of a jazz-fusion sound on this album," Tolling says. "There are a lot of different styles—a lot of shifting styles—but the idea is for us together to sound like a unit."

The centerpiece is Tolling's original composition "The Playmaker Suite," which underscores the team spirit found both in improvisational jazz and sports.

"As a bandleader, you're trying to feature everybody in the band and to write music that really gets the best out of each band member," he says. "I try to do that not only through our playing, but also through my own writing. I try to facilitate them so that they can shine.

"So there's no one playmaker—we're all playmakers."

When it comes to jazz violin, Tolling is in the big leagues. He started playing violin at age 6, learning through the Suzuki method before switching to conventional classical coaching. "Classical is the cornerstone of my training," he says. "I went through playing Mendelssohn, Vivaldi and Bruch—you know, the works."

He also listened to jazz, gravitating toward the music of legendary jazz violinists Svend Asmussen—a fellow Dane—and Stephane Grappelli.

"I was intrigued by their music but, until I found the right teacher, I wasn't sure how to translate it to my instrument in a way I could understand and apply," he says.

He later had a chance to study under Asmussen, known as the Fiddling Viking, who had played with Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman.

The two Danes developed a close bond.

"He passed the torch to me," Tolling says. "He was quite an influence. My own development as a jazz player was made easier by the fact that we actually have a jazz-violin tradition in Denmark, so it wasn't a completely foreign concept."

His jazz training received a further boost in 2003 when, while still enrolled at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Tolling began recording and touring with Clarke.

Professionally, Tolling's big break came when he was offered the position of violist in the Turtle Island Quartet, a pioneering chamber-jazz ensemble based in the Bay Area.

The ensemble won a 2009 Grammy Award for A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane.

But Tolling also enjoys the challenges of a bandleader. "In my own group," he says, "I especially like the way you can create these cool sounding grooves along with these interesting harmonies. I mean, classical music really is founded in European harmonies, so jazz is the best of both worlds. You can fuse it all and make it your own, do something that's a little off.

"I'm very attracted to that."


The Mads Tolling Quartet performs Thursday, Aug. 20, at 8pm, at 142 Throckmorton Theatre, Mill Valley. $15, $18. 415/383-9600.

Hum a few bars for Greg at - PacificSun

"Danish violinist Mads Tolling brings his jazz quartet to Santana Row"

July 2, 2009
By: Andrew Gilbert

Violinists, violists and cellists have never been more prominent in jazz than today.

Though string bands played a role in the early years of jazz and put Europe on the swing map in the 1930s with the Gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, for most of the music's history anyone wielding a bow took a far back seat to horn players.

These days, however, some of the most exciting and innovative jazz musicians play strings, and the emergence of Mads Tolling on the Bay Area scene is hardly an anomaly. Born and raised in Denmark, the 28-year-old violinist immersed himself in the music of the post-bop masters as a teenager in Copenhagen, after winning numerous honors for his mastery of classical music.

"When I was about 17 years old, I started transcribing solos by artists like Chick Corea, Miles Davis, John Coltrane like crazy, getting their vocabulary down," says Tolling, who makes his South Bay debut as a bandleader on Tuesday at Santana Row, in the Flavors of Jazz series presented by San Jose Jazz. "I started playing at jazz clubs too, sitting it at all the jam sessions around the city.

"People look at you a little funny when you show up at a jam session with a violin, but then I'd start to play, and it would be OK," he adds.

That's pretty much Tolling's story for the past decade. Once he starts to play, jaws drop, and prejudices shatter. While string players still often face initial skepticism from their jazz
peers, there's a burgeoning movement, which includes cellists Dana Leong, Erik Friedlander and Peggy Lee, violists Eyvind Kang and Matt Maneri, and violinists Regina Carter, India Cooke, Sam Bardfeld, Mark Feldman, Jenny Scheinman and now Tolling.

By far the youngest on the list, Tolling offers a vivid case study in the wondrous efficiency of the jazz grapevine. He arrived in Boston in 2000 with a full scholarship to the Berklee College of Music, where he studied composition and arranging with trombonist Hal Crook and violin with Matt Glaser. It wasn't long before word of a brilliant new player traveled west, courtesy of Jean-Luc Ponty.

Tolling had taken a few master classes with the pioneering electric violinist, and Ponty, duly impressed, mentioned him to bassist-composer Stanley Clarke, who was looking to launch a new band after a decade in Hollywood scoring films. "He was very excited to start touring," Tolling says. "Playing with him is amazing. Being on the bandstand, you really have to deliver. It was a great challenge."

Tolling still performs with Clarke, but his main gig these days is with the Bay Area's Turtle Island Quartet, which has forged a repertoire blending the precision and dynamic control of a chamber ensemble with the improvisational imperative of a jazz combo. Turtle Island violinist David Balakrishnan first heard about Tolling through Berklee's Glaser, a tenured violin professor who focuses on jazz and bluegrass, rather than European classical music.

Since Tolling joined Turtle Island in 2003, the quartet has won two Grammy Awards for best classical crossover album, first for a collaboration with the Ying Quartet, "4+Four" and then "A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane" (both on Telarc).

"Mads came in with so much vocabulary and expressivity," Balakrishnan says. "Playing with Turtle Island takes a rare blend of classical and jazz skills, and he's found his own voice and his own way."

Balakrishnan's assessment was shared by Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Terence Blanchard, for whom Tolling auditioned to become the first string player admitted to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz's prestigious masters program. (Tolling had to write in "violin" on the application form, since it wasn't listed as an instrumental category.) But with the offer from Turtle Island on the table, he decided to forgo further studies and move to the Bay Area.

"I have had a lot of second thoughts, but when you're a musician you want to play professionally," Tolling says. "I felt I was developing my own voice."

Creatively ambitious musicians also want to lead their own bands, and Tolling released his first album under his own name last year, "Speed of Light." Recorded at Peace Lutheran Church in Mill Valley, the often astonishing trio session features bassist George Ban-Weiss and guitarist Mike Abraham. In recent months Tolling has expanded the band to a quartet, with Eric Garland on drums, greatly increasing the group's dynamic range.

Whether writing his own material, adapting Danish folk songs or interpreting rock tunes by Led Zeppelin and Radiohead, Tolling draws on a wide stylistic palette encompassing the pristine, spacious sound associated with the Scandinavian musicians who record for ECM and the hard-edged fusion of the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

As always for an acoustic string musician, the challenge is not getting lost in the mix.

"My sound is more like a horn than a violin in a lot of ways," Tolling says. "I try to make it sound fat and dense, adding some reverb and delay on it. But it's a violin, and you want to play stuff that will work on it. It's always a balance, and I'm constantly working to get the violin to sound the way I hear it."

Mads Tolling Quartet

When: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Village California Bistro and Wine Bar, Santana Row, Stevens Creek and Winchester boulevards, San Jose

Admission: Free; 408-248-9091,

Also: 7 p.m. July 30, Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz, $18, 831-427-2227, - San Jose Mercury News

"Fusing smart jazz, Americana, rolling rock and kick-butt violin The Mads Tolling Quartet"

April 11, 2009

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor

Mads Tolling Quartet

Horn lines and furious 16th notes, barn stomping strings, washboard percussion and goose step pizzicato – never thought the violin could wail out such slamming hooks and riffs until violinist Mads Tolling ( took to the stage with the Mads Tolling Quartet, Saturday night at Pacifica Performances. Members of the Quartet are: Tolling on violin, Mike Abraham on guitar, George Ban-Weiss on upright and electric bass and Eric Garland on drums. Theirs is a unique sound: old and new, innovative and highly listenable. Guitarist Abraham is fluid revelation on guitar, smoking out vivid guitar arpeggios and easy, cool passion. Bassist Ban-Weiss has got all the savvy essentials needed to keep the string pump on articulated tone and style and drummer Garland divvied out rhythmic punctuations of jazz, rock, folk, blues, Bluegrass – Americana, with a nice foundation of soul. As for Tolling, he might just be the fusion Paganini for the old/new electric audience. With songs by Tolling, Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis, mixing in with big helpings of Latin jazz, Middle Eastern, Danish folk and Thelonious Monk – the Mads Tolling Quartet offers the kind of musical menu that meets with a collective jaw drop. Wow! - Jean's Gallery: Ink Notes

"Stringing along with Mads Tolling's new quartet"

July 28, 2009
By: Brian McCoy

You might not think Mads Tolling had the time – or even necessarily the desire – to front his own group.
After all, the Copenhagen-raised violinist already has a flourishing and creatively challenging career, having spent the past six years lending his performing and composing skills to one of the world’s most popular jazz-classical acts, the Turtle Island String Quartet. Just last year, the ensemble took home the Best Classical Crossover Grammy for “A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane.” And then there’s Tolling’s more traditional jazz bona fides, which include playing in Stanley Clarke’s band and on the bassist’s 2007 album, “Toys of Men.” But, as the following interview reveals, Tolling clearly feels there are elements to his creative life that still need to be explored. That desire led him a few years back to form the eponymous trio that released “Speed of Light” (2008) and to expand the group to a quartet for “The Playmaker,” due in October.

The Mads Tolling Quartet – which includes Mike Abraham (guitar), George Ban-Weiss (bass) and Eric Garland (drums) – plays Thursday night at Santa Cruz’s Kuumbwa Jazz Center. The band’s live sets are a violin-jazz bash of original compositions and covers, the latter likely to include everything from Nat Adderley (“Work Song”) to Led Zeppelin (“Black Dog”).
Here’s what Tolling had to say about his background, his music and his band. A video interview and live clip can be found below.

Question: Going back a bit, discuss if you will your music development in Denmark. Copenhagen is no stranger to jazz but clearly you were absorbing all sorts of influences. How does the mix of musical cultures play out in your music?

Tolling: I think probably being raised playing a lot of classical music gave me some sensitivities in my playing in terms of dynamics and phrasing. That – added to my knowledge of jazz and rock ‘n’ roll – helped me a lot to get my voice. I think the main thing is to sound authentic whatever you do. It worked to my advantage that jazz had a strong presence in Denmark, where fiddle music isn’t as strong. Seems like most violinists in U.S.A. that do alternative to classical music go for more of a fiddle sound. This is a wonderful sound but, in addition, I love the rhythms and the harmonies I get from jazz and classical music.

Question: Turtle Island, of course, is known for its pioneering work. What led you to want to form an ensemble of your own?

Tolling: I felt it was important to start a group that would be championing my music and ideas and, yes, I feel like a bit of a pioneer leading this band the way it is going, crossing all types of boundaries. It is especially gratifying for me seeing my band mates tackle the challenges in the music and to see them grow with it. I always had an urge to lead my own band and it feels like Mads Tolling Quartet is a full realization of that dream.

Question: What can you tell us about the chemistry that exists among you, Mike, George and Eric? For those who are familiar with your recordings, what can they expect when they see the quartet live?

Tolling: One of the key reasons we play together – besides the music – is the camaraderie amongst us. It truly is a blast performing, rehearsing, growing together, you name it. I think it is important to be friends and to respect each other to make great music. This band started with an idea just three years (ago) and now we have soon two records out, 30 tunes and a real concept to go along with it.
It is a very different experience to see us live vs. a recording. I always think the best performances come in front of an audience and not in front of a microphone. We bring a lot of energy and good times to the stage, and most times we feel that back from the audience. It is a magical experience when audience and musicians alike experience that synergy. - San Francisco Examiner


Mads Tolling "The Playmaker"
Stanley Clarke
Russell Ferrante
Stefon Harris
Street date: Oct 20, 2009

Tracks that have had airplay include:
The Playmaker
The Contemplator
The Risktaker
El Duderino
The Chicken

Mads Tolling Trio - "Speed of Light" - March, 2008

Tracks that have had radio airplay include:
Danish Dessert
Black Dog
Crazy Dance
Work Song
Blue In Green



Mads Tolling, internationally renowned violinist, violist, and composer, is a member of the two-time Grammy Award-Winning Turtle Island Quartet. As a soloist, he regularly tours as jazz violinist with the acclaimed bassist Stanley Clarke. Mads has been featured on NPR’s Morning Edition, and his recordings have received rave reviews in Downbeat Magazine, Strings Magazine, Washington Post & San Francisco Chronicle. He has performed with Chick Corea, Ramsey Lewis, Kenny Barron & Paquito D’Rivera.

Mads Tolling, Mike Abraham, George Ban-Weiss and Eric Garland came together through the eclectic San Francisco jazz scene. The distinctive quartet integrates the violin into a traditional jazz combo. All four instruments play unconventional roles to make the music come to life. Violin may act as drum, guitar may take bass lines and bass may carry the melody. There are some moments of pure spontaneity, but as an always underlying force are thoughtful compositions and arrangements.

Mads Tolling Quartet draws inspiration from jazz to world music to rock'n roll, and from such artists as Herbie Hancock, Ravi Shankar & Radiohead. Most songs are composed and arranged by bandleader, Mads Tolling, who has a distinct melodic, lyrical “groove” to his writing.

MTQ enjoys playing well-known pieces such as Thelonious Monk's “Blue Monk”, Zeppelin’s “Black Dog”, giving them a new twist, while staying true to the spirit of the original versions.

In March of 2008 Mads Tolling Trio released its first album entitled, “Speed of Light”. The album features ten tunes of originals and arrangements, and in addition a solo violin version of Miles Davis’ “Blue in Green”. Soon after the release the trio expanded to its current configuration – Mads Tolling Quartet.

In the summer of 2009 MTQ went in the studio to record “The Playmaker,” which features special guests Stanley Clarke, Yellowjackets founder Russell Ferrante & vibist Stefon Harris. The album was released worldwide in the fall of ‘09, which marks an exciting time for MTQ with tours nationally & internationally going forward to ‘10-‘11. The Quartet has performed at numerous venues around the country, including Yoshi’s Oakland & San Francisco, Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco, Herbst Theatre as part of SF Jazz Festival, Summerlin Library in Las Vegas, Grass Valley Center for the Arts in Grass Valley, Blues Alley in Washington DC & Jazzhouse Montmartre in Copenhagen, Denmark.

In June, 2010 MTQ performed at the celebration for the Danish Embassy’s 50 year anniversary. In attendance were Royal Highnesses, Prince Frederik & Princess Mary of Denmark and members of congress, including majority leader Steny Hoyer.

“A wonderful new voice on the violin – - – very refreshing!”
-Chick Corea

“Mads has the amazing talent and skills that few young musicians can match. His music is both beautiful and refreshing exhibiting his superb mastery of the modern American Jazz music that is rarely seen among his peers.” -Jean-Luc Ponty

"Mr. Tolling is a virtuoso who doesn't abandon his listeners. "Speed Of Light", with sophistication and maturity doesn't abandon accessibility. This is fascinating, hooky and satisfying music and Mads takes it beyond the academy and back to the ear." -Leo Kottke

“With Tolling’s honed technique, vigorous attack and engaging brand of swing…” -Washington Post

“…Mads Tolling may not be 30 yet, but on “The Playmaker” he exhibits a restraint that would’ve been at home in Corea’s original Return to Forever” -Downbeat Magazine

“The album is marked with virtuosic moments of sublime, genre-busting string work by Tolling….” -San Francisco Chronicle

“Tolling has a real gift for blending an unaffected folksy sound with sparse jazz licks that are the perfect complement to the atmospheric ambiance that grace most of these tracks. While Tolling is skilled at evoking a beautiful melody, he’s equally adept at filling out the sound with powerful double-stops and intricate harmonics…..”
-Strings Magazine

“The set concluded with bassist Stanley Clarke’s tribute to Coltrane, "Song to John," played in a complex but musically gripping arrangement by Tolling.”
-LA Times