Here’s something to raise the ire of purists: Jazz piano ace Marcus Roberts (formerly with Wynton Marsalis’ 1980s quintet) and banjo master Béla Fleck, who’s got an extensive résumé in both bluegrass and electric and acoustic fusion styles, in an equal partnership. Each gent brought original compositions to the table, neither side “bending” toward the other in a facile manner. In other words, no traditional bluegrass tunes given jazz renditions, no bebop standards given Americana flourishes.
“Some Roads Lead Home” begins with a somewhat pastoral melodic motif (as much Bill Monroe as Aaron Copeland) before switching to a loping bit of rural funk, Roberts’ sweet bluesy chords lay a basis for his and Fleck’s flights of fancy, maintaining the joyful, bucolic ambiance. Here, Jason Marsalis’ drums roil and pour down like one of those rare summer showers during which the sun still shines. “Let Me Show You What to Do” alternates between sly, leisurely-paced blues-laden passages and brisk, hard-swinging bebop. “Petunia,” co-written by Fleck and Roberts, bridges aspects of their respective styles. Fleck’s solos have more than a hint of down-home twang, but he keeps pace with the fervent swing; Roberts swings like mad with hints of country-pop phrasing in his solos, melding Floyd Cramer corn with Red Garland drive. Fleck’s sparkling “One Blue Truth” has hints of bossa nova with him in a reflective mode (his banjo almost sounding like a mandolin), while Roberts’ piano waltzes elegantly.
This exhilarating Divide focuses on the commonality and breadth of American song, refined but never too far from the blues. (Rounder)