in performance: bela fleck and brooklyn rider

Bela Fleck and Brooklyn Rider

bela fleck, center, with violist nicholas cords, violinists johnny gandelsman and colin jacobsen and cellist eric jacobsen of brooklyn rider. photo by shervin lainez.

In an instance that was as ironic as it was revealing last night at Danville’s Norton Center for the Arts, Bela Fleck deconstructed the second movement of The Imposter Concerto, the original orchestral work that commands the first half of his newest album (The Imposter) into a solo banjo piece. In doing so, the work revealed a folkish reverence and deep Americana conscience that has long been at the heart of even his most modern minded music.

The irony came from the movement’s title: Integration. While you might not have experienced the symphonic meshing of styles in this sketch pad-style reading, what resulted throughout the rest of the program was very much the product of a musical integration that was like-minded in execution but hardly likely in terms of musical convention.

The performance was one of the initial dates of a tour that teamed Fleck with the progressively minded New York string quartet Brooklyn Rider. With little, if any, precedent for a banjo-led string ensemble to follow, the music followed several intriguing paths of cultural pollination.

In essence, Fleck’s Americana works (displayed neatly in the evening’s show-opening, chamber-style revision of his 2003 Flecktones tune Next and the beautifully plaintive 1994 solo piece The Landing) worked off of Brooklyn Rider’s preference for Eastern European influences.

The latter was allowed to roam freely within the Romanian flourishes of Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin’s Culai, which the quartet performed without Fleck. But on extended works like Fleck’s Night Flight Over Water, the integration was plentiful. The dynamics, which were rich throughout the piece, crested in a finale of car chase speed between banjo and strings.

Further stretching the tug of war between Americana and European folk sources was Brooklesca. Composed by Brooklyn Rider violinist Colin Jacobsen, the piece initially underscored the design difference between Fleck and the quartet – specifically, the single plucked notes of the banjo, often played at dizzying speed with remarkable melodic dexterity, and the longer bowed phrasing of the Riders. Then the lines blurred into a playful but precise whole.

There were also moments when the music embraced glorious quiet, as in a cover of Joao Gilberto subtle bossa nova Undiu, which let the program’s worldly integration settle into a state of incantatory global cool.

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