Béla Fleck – Perpetual Motion

bela_perpetual_motionPaganini on the banjo. Think about it. Paganini was a great violinist. Like Robert Johnson, the blues guitarist, Paganini’s prowess and compositional skill (designed to show off that prowess) were good enough that people thought he bartered with the Devil.1 He played quickly – preternaturally quickly. And on this CD, Béla Flek plays Paganini’s Moto Perpetua on the banjo. He does it well.

If this doesn’t appeal to you, stop reading. If you do not love the sound of the banjo, do not get this album.

It is a collection of classical music played on the banjo (with minor accompaniment). The track list tends to the conventional, with familiar pieces like Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” and Bach’s “‘Prelude’ from Suite For Unaccompanied Cello No. 1”2. This is in Béla’s favor. He does not try and impress us with the breadth of his repertoire; he plays music that is fun to listen to. While the banjo may fit the Chopin mazurkas best, it does not feel out of place or gimmicky. Béla conforms to the necessities of the music. There is enough intelligence and imagination to know what the banjo can do, and what should be left to the accompaniment. Rare, that a release meant to show off the virtuosity of a musician should focus on music, not ego.

1For a low-rent version of Paganini, see The Red Violin. Klaus Kinski wanted to make a twelve-hour miniseries about the guy. What’s available is the (incomprehensible) ninety-minute version, modestly titled “Kinski Paganini.”

2Evangelion fans: Shinji practices this piece on his cello.

Rating: B+

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com