Béla FLECK: Juno Concerto; Griff; Quintet for Banjo and Strings: Movement II – Béla Fleck, banjo/Brooklyn Rider/Colorado Symphony/Jose Luis Gomez– Rounder Records 1166100200 50:51 (3/17/17) ****:
A banjo concerto – a very entertaining one at that!
I am not at all sure how many works for banjo and orchestra; especially an actual multi-movement concerto there are, but the Juno Concerto is likely the best! I did query to find a concerto by banjoist Chris Lake whose work I do not know but Fleck’s Concerto is very engaging. As promotional materials attest, “Béla Fleck is the world’s premier banjo player, a 16-time Grammy Award winner nominated in more categories than any other musician, a genre-busting collaborator, a film producer and a composer. Foremost, though, he is a dad. The impact of fatherhood on Béla is reflected in Juno Concerto, named for his firstborn son with fellow folk musician Abigail Washburn.”
The music morphs through a number of styles including some very Copland-esque moments and some bluegrass type exchanges with orchestral support that reminded me a little bit of Bartok. Ultimately, this is a very creative and – most importantly – entertaining work that showcases Fleck, as the soloist as well as the fine work by the Colorado Symphony and conductor Jose Luis Gomez. This album also includes two tracks with the supremely talented jazz-classical-eclectic quartet Brooklyn Rider; Griff and the second movement of Fleck’s Quintet for Banjo and Strings.
The Quintet is a previously unrecorded collaboration with Fleck’s friend and mentor Edgar Meyer and represents the composer’s first experimentation with classical music. My copy of this disc is an advance promo copy that does not have a booklet/’liner notes’ so I rely mainly on press material for information about these works. The biggest testament to the value of this release is that you really don’t need to know a thing about Bela Fleck or how and why he wrote these pieces to enjoy them immensely.
It sure makes one want to hear more from this very talented performer on this most unusual and most ‘American’ instrument, though!