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CD REVIEW

Béla Fleck: Juno Concerto

by Jeff Tamarkin on May 17, 2017
It seems someone forgot to tell Béla Fleck that there are certain things a banjo just can’t do—like play with symphony orchestras. Thank you to those people who neglected to inform him because, like so much of Fleck’s work, is boundary-busting, breathtaking stuff. Fleck has said that he wrote the work—the album consists of the three-movement title piece performed with the Colorado Symphony, conducted by Jose Luis Gomez, and two additional tracks that pair Fleck with the Brooklyn Rider string quartet—for his young son, and, indeed, the primary composition oozes the newness and pure sense of wonder that accompanies parenthood. The “Juno Concerto,” as Fleck points out at the onset of his liner notes, is his second banjo concerto, and he’s allied with other classical musiciansfor other projects, but this one is the most ambitious and complex of the lot. The grandiosity of it really doesn’t manifest fully until midway into “Movement I,” as the interplay between banjo and orchestra—alternating at times, converging at others—falls into a groove that makes this unusual alignment feel perfectly natural. From there on out, you’ll find yourself wondering why banjos and orchestras aren’t sharing stages all the time. While the vibe on the two tracks with banjo and quartet is necessarily leaner—though it’s no less potent—on both “Griff” and “Quintet for Banjo and Strings: Movement II” Fleck finds a comfy place among the violins, viola and cello, and creates with them a new entity that obliterates genre and the roles of the instruments involved.

Authors: Jeff Tamarkin
Artist: Béla Fleck
Album: Juno Concerto
Label: Rounder