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Bela Fleck


Quiz time: What do you get when you combine an acclaimed bluegrass and banjo guru with a big-city, edgy string quartet whose sounds are often outside the box?

Bela Fleck and Brooklyn Rider, that’s who.

While on the surface they may look like an unlikely match, in reality Fleck and the BR boys are both on the outer edge of their respective sounds, so teaming up was actually a pretty insightful choice. And it was one that started when Fleck was simply trying to find a string quartet to collaborate with for one piece on his Imposter album.

“When I realised I was going to write a piece for banjo and quartet, the question was, which string quartet would be the best to collaborate with. All roads led to Brooklyn Rider,” Fleck laughs, “everyone I spoke to thought they were a great choice, and possibly the best choice.”


brooklyn riderLadies and gentlemen, Brooklyn Rider

Once the striking “Night Flight Over Water” – the banjo/quartet piece that Fleck started with – was completed, all of the musicians decided that further investigations of this new sound were in order.

A full setlist of music was developed from their initial collaboration, which led to a tour that put Fleck and Brooklyn Rider on the road together for much of this past summer, with more dual dates on the way this November 2014. It was an irresistable combo of sounds, Fleck says, that simply couldn’t be denied.

“The string quartet is already a complete ensemble with myriad beautiful sound possibilities,” he explains, “and yet, the banjo possesses sounds that don’t exist in the quartet. The combination of the lush and the stark, the long tones versus the short, the rhythmic and the static, presents amazing musical opportunities.”

In actuality, this collaboration also follows right along the path of many of Fleck’s previous projects. He frequently works with musicians who might be thought outside of his particular musical zone, but that only serves to keep his sound fresh and pushes the boundaries of his already considerable skill.

One of the tricks is that Fleck has to learn a lot of different setlists as each project develops – but that’s all part of the fun.

“I am a fan of the idea of having a different set of repertoire for each collaboration,” he says. “It takes more work, but it gives each group a very strong identity, even beyond the actual instruments in the ensembles. With Brooklyn Rider, I already had the ‘Night Flight Over Water’ piece from the Impostor CD to start with. Then I wrote another significant piece, about 20 minutes long. Then I created an arrangement of a couple of my older pieces to sprinkle in. I also learned several of Brooklyn Rider’s excellent pieces, and looked for a banjo role in these.”

“By the end, we had built a repertoire that we are very proud of,” he smiles.

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