September 23, 2001
SUNDAY - ARTS
BELA FLECK: Perpetual Motion (Sony Classical)
by David Royko
Bela Fleck isn't the first to perform Bach on the banjo -- from Pete Seeger in the '50s to John Bullard in the '90s, pickers have been drawn to twist their fingers around the "classics." No banjo picker, however, has played Bach, and Scarlatti, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Paganini or Debussy with the sensitivity and sheer artistry of Fleck. He has enlisted a handful of top musicians, including Edgar Meyer and Evelyn Glennie, who like Fleck have redefined what is possible on their instruments, and with Meyer has provided arrangements for these short pieces and isolated movements that are surprisingly effective. But ultimately, one learns nothing new about these works, while the hodgepodge program renders the album more a curious candy sampler rather than a full meal. With the forces of Sony behind him, it is to be hoped Fleck follows the example of Glennie and commissions some original classical works from a major contemporary composer or two and adds something substantial to the literature. Fleck has the talent to stagger, not just charm.