17 AUG 12 DAVID SHANNON
Although banjo fit in early jazz as a rhythm instrument, it faded from the scene long ago and eventually became synonymous with bluegrass and country music. Don't tell that to celebrated banjoist Béla Fleck and the ace jazz trio he performs with on the Rounder release Across The Imaginary Divide, however. On this eclectic album of originals, Fleck teams with the Marcus Roberts Trio -- featuring noted traditionalist Roberts on piano, drummer Jason Marsalis (the youngest of the famed Marsalis brothers), and versatile bassist Rodney Jordan -- to handily rebuild the bridge between banjo and jazz.
The record runs a gamut of jazz styles, from the waltzing opening track "Some Roads Lead Home" and the bluesy swing of "Let Me Show You What To Do" to the bossa nova "Sunshine And The Moonlight" and the samba "Toapika." Throughout, the players give each other wide-open spaces for soloing, Fleck keeping stride with Roberts track-for-track while the crack rhythm section of Marsalis and Jordan anchor the proceedings.
The album is full of surprises and impressive flourishes, but perhaps no other tune here illustrates the virtuosity of this lineup more than "Petunia," a barn-burning, head-spinning affair that ramps up the pace with each new solo until Fleck and Roberts are practically reading each other's minds as one phrase ends and another begins.