SUNDAY, May 16, 1999
Music review, Tony Trischka, Bela Fleck at Old Town School of Folk Music
By David Royko
Special to the Tribune
The musical equivalent of Dr. J and Michael Jordan took the stage Saturday
night at the Old Town School of Folk Music's Chicago Folk Center, in the
guise of banjoists Tony Trischka and Bela Fleck.
For the first 25 years of bluegrass history, Earl Scruggs set the standard,
but since the mid-'70s, it has been these two men who have defined
progressive banjo music.
Both New Yorkers, Trischka was an early mentor of Fleck's. The teacher's
angular, avant-garde style mixes sweet romanticism with dips into atonality,
which Fleck used as a jumping-off point, in turn creating an entirely new
set of possibilities for the banjo.
His classical guitarist's touch combines with an eclecticism bordering on
the other-worldly. By the end of the first set, they were dueting on the
same banjo, with Trischka reaching from behind Fleck, and even if it looked
like a parlor trick, the music they created was anything but.
Through Bach, Beatles, bluegrass, and Brubeck, their personalities, as well
as their extraordinary arsenal of techniques and ideas, imbued everything
not only with integrity, but also with creativity. Ultimately, the best
moments came with their original compositions.
Fleck's recent "Katmandu" found the composer playing the entire tune without
ever touching the neck of the banjo, instead manipulating his tuning pegs,
creating a profound tone poem in miniature. Trischka's "Woodpecker" was
characteristic of his sweet-and-sour style, and gave both pickers a rich
opportunity to improvise through tricky material.