Bela Fleck and Brooklyn Rider @ Valley Performing Arts Center

Béla Fleck, Bela Fleck & Brooklyn Rider , Brooklyn Rider
Jazz Weekly

By George W. Harris

What is a banjo doing with a string quartet, and vice versa?” was a question poignantly asked by violinist Jonathan Gandelsman and answered during the 2 hour concert at CSUNs Performing Arts Center with banjo extraordinaire Bela Fleck and the team of Brooklyn Rider.

Billed and advertised as part of a jazz series, the teaming of the Fleck and Rider was more akin to modern classical, as exemplified in the opening of songs . The opening eighteen minute“Rain Dance” mixed sounds reminiscent of Copland, Bartok and bluegreass while “The Landing” had Fleck and the quartet mix pastoral pizzicatos and Shenandoah long bowed tones with Gypsy caravan swing. Dramatic swoops and sounds flew around before Fleck joked about his trying to “prove that a banjo can be a depressing instrument” on the melancholic “Quintet for Banjo and Strings.” Romps such as “Brooklesca” successfully mixed twirling dance motifs, dramatic climaxes and bel canto string sections as both framework and rhythmic foundations for Fleck’s precisely picked yet lyrical solos.

Fleck left stage for Brooklyn Rider to deliver a richly textured “Three Miniatures for String Quartet that delivered a yearning “Majnun’s Moonshine,” a gently restless “The Flowers of Esfahan” and a swirling “A Walking Fire.” Fleck then arrived and set up a campfire cozy tribute to recently departed Woody Guthrie, complete with sing along, before everyone joined back together for a marathon closing session of “Night Flight Over Water” that included adventurous and ambitious episodes mixed with a few ponderous dalliances alongside and including inspiringly intricate technique and sophisticated harmonics. While not completely classical, jazz or folk, Fleck and Brooklyn Rider proved their points that seeming incongruity can still produce inspiration.