Review: Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer

Bela Fleck & Edgar Meyer
“Music For Two”
(Sony Classical)

The banjo has gotten a bad rap. Maybe it’s from country/folk/Americana music, maybe it’s the “Dueling Banjos” bit from “Deliverance”, or maybe it’s just the odd name, but the instrument and it’s five-stringed twang don’t seem to get the respect they might deserve. Anyone who’s heard banjo maestro Bela Fleck’s work (either solo, in collaboration, or with his usual band The Flecktones) however, probably knows differently – and “Music For Two”, Fleck’s new collaboration with double bassist Edgar Meyer is – for classical music fans and novices alike – an exciting partnership of two friends, colleagues and virtuosi. If banjo and bass sound like an odd combination, they play off one another surprisingly well; Fleck’s staccato plucking augmented by the deep sustain of Meyer’s bass. It’s an interesting album, not just for the duo’s interplay as performers, but for the works they’ve written and interpreted for the record. The album consists entirely of pieces written (or interpreted) for any combination of banjo, guitar (Fleck), double bass and piano (Meyer). Fleck and Meyer wrote most of the material contained here, while the remaining 25% consists of arrangements of classical pieces (particularly from Baroque composers such as Bach and Eccles), whose works seem to translate particularly well to the duo’s arrangements. The disc also comes with a companion DVD, featuring the documentary film “Obstinato: Making Music For Two.” Even more so than the record, the DVD is strictly fans-only (though it does contain two bonus tracks not featured on the proper album, as well as live and behind-the-scenes footage). None of this is meant to scare listeners away – quite the opposite, in fact; most would do well to give “Music For Two” a listen and expand their horizons a bit. It may not be everybody’s preferred genre (or preferred instrumentation, for that matter), but few will deny the talent and skill behind this unexpected collaboration.