John Fordham 

Bela Fleck/Marcus Roberts: Across the Imaginary Divide – review

The crossover agenda is even more explicit than usual as idiom jumps, and groove and tempo shifts jostle through the music, writes John Fordham
  
  

The implications of this album's title are not new to Bela Fleck. The US banjo star has been applying a jazz sensibility to bluegrass, classical music and rock for over 20 years – but in swapping former Wynton Marsalis pianist Marcus Roberts' jazz trio for his Flecktones group here, the crossover agenda is even more explicit than usual: idiom jumps, groove and tempo shifts jostle through the music. But Fleck and Roberts are sweepingly skilful improvisers, and a blues-infused tracklist buzzes with melody. Some Roads Lead Home shuffles bluesy earthiness and bright swing, before huffing to a halt like a decelerating steam train. I'm Gonna Tell You is a Latin cruiser for a relaxed and expansive Roberts, and there are New Orleans street band marches, ball-busting bebop excursions, barn-dance whirlings and Chick Corea-like Latin-jazz swingers. A bit more wait-and-see would have been nice, but it's a session with a lot of charm, and plenty of jaw-dropping playing.

 

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