Bluegrass and fusion banjoist Béla Fleck and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra (a group well-placed for a progressive bluegrass experiment) here offer Fleck's Juno Concerto, a work named for the young son of Fleck and his less fleet-fingered but equally musically adventurous banjoist/vocalist wife, Abigail Washburn. It's not Fleck's first attempt at a banjo-classical fusion: often working with bassist Edgar Meyer, his experiments in this vein go back to the Quintet for banjo and strings, written with Meyer in 1984 and recorded in part here. Fleck, alone, composed an earlier full-fledged banjo concerto in 2011, entitled The Impostor and exploring the seeming contradiction between bluegrass soloist and classical orchestra. The Juno Concerto resembles the earlier works written with Meyer a bit more than The Impostor, with flowing fusion banjo solos blooming out of Copland-esque fanfare music in the opening movement. Fleck announced his intention "to create more and better slow music" in this work, and indeed the slow movement, based on a simple plucked figure in the banjo, is the part that sticks with you the most here. It's hard to associate the rather brash finale with Fleck's little son, but the banjo passagework is undeniably crowd-pleasing. Those interested in Fleck's work outside bluegrass and fusion might also check out Throw Down Your Heart, in which he collaborates with musicians from various parts of Africa, but he leaves no doubt here that he has the chops for long-form classical composition.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Quintet for Banjo and Strings|