Béla Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio

Across The Imaginary Divide


Béla Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio, Across The Imaginary Divide (Rounder)

Marcus Roberts is a pianist known for his proficiency in early piano styles like stride and ragtime, seasoned with a bit of expressive dissonance à la Thelonious Monk. Béla Fleck is a banjoist known for fusing bluegrass and jazz fusion (“blu-bop,” he has sometimes called it). What do you get when you toss them together on one record?

As it turns out, the result is not as crazy as you might expect. The title may convey the stoned-spacey vibe of an early Flecktones record, but the sound is in a more conventional post-bop mode. Roberts plays in a delicate, melodic straight-ahead vein, and Fleck is his usual tastefully virtuosic self. The joy is in the execution, as when listening to the two of them execute rhythmically flawless parallel melodic lines on “Let’s Go.”

Lending a bit of New Orleans interest to the record is the presence on drums of Jason Marsalis, who brings his characteristically subtle approach to the proceedings. Rodney Jordan rounds out the rhythm section on bass, and the ensemble is flawlessly cohesive. No one steps on anyone else’s toes.

Fleck’s progressive-bluegrass tendencies inevitably shine through on tracks like “Petunia,” chock-full of up-tempo banjo rolls. But the band sounds best in numbers like the title track where Fleck blends as seamlessly into the idiom as the banjo players of the early New Orleans period did into theirs. A modern Johnny St. Cyr.