A thoughtful two
The twosome of Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer tops the totem among modern Baroque-jazz duos. And, with the release of “Music for Two,” Fleck and Meyer set the standard for double-bass and banjo collaborations.
Two of the most traditional genres, bluegrass and classical, unite in “Music for Two,” hinting at a hodgepodge of influences. The album was recorded over the course of the duo’s short tour in 2003.
Fleck’s brother, filmmaker Sascha Paladino, accompanied the duo on tour with a video camera, and produced “Obstinato: Making Music For Two.” The bonus DVD provides a 40-minute intimate glance at the subtle humor and quiet squabbles within Fleck and Meyer’s intriguing relationship.
Fleck, 46 years old, has steadily risen to a status as banjo virtuoso among a select few. He has been recording for more than 20 years, having picked up his first banjo at the age of 15. Fleck got his big break when mandolin maestro Sam Bush hired him to play in Newgrass Revival, which charted new territory in bluegrass through elements of rock and country.
During his Newgrass Revival years, Fleck and Bush played alongside Jerry Douglas, Mark O’Connor and Meyer in the bluegrass supergroup Strength In Numbers. From there, Fleck made new strides with the Flecktones, and has recently returned to working with Meyer.
“Music For Two” does not bear the same rock edge and looser, improvisational tendencies as much of Fleck’s early work with the Flecktones. The album is more terse and to the point, while maintaining many long, poetic cadences.
“I think it has a good feel to it. It’s a combination of classical pieces and original pieces they wrote, and because of the medium and the double-bass, it’s very good dinner music,” said pop-music guru and Eagle Valley Music Co. co-owner Tom Robbins.
The album opens with the aptly titled “Bug Tussle,” which, with its delicate banjo and loping double-bass sound, feels like a lengthy interaction between a cricket and a butterfly. The next track marks the first of four Fleck and Meyer arrangements of Johann Sebastian Bach works. The fifth piece on the album is a cover of Miles Davis’ “Solar.”
Meyer’s first solo writing credit is the seventh track, “Canon,” which is painfully documented on the DVD, as the two have a quite a bit of banter and tussle over who getting what wrong. “Canon,” as the names connotes, is a musical round, except this difficult little piece is in a 15/8 time signature.
Meyer exalts Henry Eccles with arrangements of “Sonata – Largo” and “Sonata – Allegro Vivace.”
The penultimate cut on the album, “Wooly Mammoth,” really picks up the pace in a manner reminiscent of earlier work by Fleck.
“The album is a good hybrid of classical and bluegrass,” said Robbins. “Though I prefer Bela’s late 80s, early 90s stuff from the Warner Brothers years because it tends to have more of a rock edge to it, I would say that he’s one of the best in his field as far as versatility in the bluegrass genre.”
Meyer pens the final tune, “Wishful Thinking,” which is a smooth piece of melody in 7/8 time.
“Music For Two” will capture fans of lively and thoughtfully arranged music, while the crowd seeking an explosively fast bluegrass dance record may not be as enthralled.
Andrew Harley can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext.610, or at email@example.com.