The Imposter contains two recorded premiers. The first, the title piece, was commissioned in 2010 by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and was banjo master Béla Fleck's first go at the form as a solo composer. He'd co-written a double concerto with bassist Edgar Meyer in 2007 and the pair collaborated on the celebrated Melody of Rhythm: Triple Concerto & Music for Trio with Zakir Hussain in 2009. This work presented a particular set of challenges and possibilities because Fleck's skills at reading -- let alone writing traditionally notated music -- were rudimentary; he reads tablature. Using computer software to aid him in notation, his own gifts for improvisation, expansive harmonic extension and arrangement, and his encyclopedic knowledge of various traditions, we hear more possibility than challenge on both works. On The Imposter, the symphony is under the direction of Giancarlo Guerrero. Fleck approaches the concerto form in three movements that address everyone from Stravinsky and Bartók to Copland, Gershwin, and Earl Scruggs. He also brings the rhythmic elasticity and harmonic palette of a jazz musician to the composition. Notable are the colorful and textural parlances between soloist and orchestra in "Infiltration," which allow Eastern European and Western folk musics into the flow of more classically oriented ideas. "Integration" contains long contrapuntal exchanges that are more speculative and intricate. Finally, "Truth Revealed" commences as an extension of the previous movement, but evolves into a dynamic and dramatic call-and-response dialogue led by Fleck. Jazz and bluegrass, 21st century classical, and crossover motifs become interchangeable and almost cinematic in their expressions, all the while avoiding overly familiar tropes and harmonic traps. The second work here, Night Flight Over Water, is a quintet for banjo and string quartet. It's much more complex -- and fascinating -- because of the built-in tensions between the five-string instruments in both ensemble and solo play. They allow not only for a unique exploration of the classical quintet form, as Fleck seeks to explore not only the possibilities for his own instrument as interloper and collaborator, but also as a tonal and harmonic inquiry at once playful and sophisticated. The last movement in particular is deeply satisfying. While it's hard to say who The Imposter might appeal to more -- classical or Fleck fans -- both should find more than enough here to hold their attention. But that's not even the point. This album represents yet another chapter in what Fleck's raison d'etre has been all along: to integrate and showcase his instrument as seamlessly as possible into virtually every form and genre he turns his attention to, and to prove that it belongs inside them, not as an exotic addition, but for its possibilities as a foundational element.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek
|The Impostor Concerto, for banjo and symphony orchestra|
|Night Flight Over Water, for banjo and string quartet|