A new Bela in the banjo world

Actually a much older one…

Banjoist Jake Schepps is in the studio recording his stringband arrangements of 20th century composer Bela Bartok’s music. He will include pieces from the Mikrokosmos, Music for Children, Romanian Folk Dance #1, and 6 of the violin duets.

For the first tracking sessions this week, Jake is at Brent Truitt’s Nashville studio with mandolinist Matt Flinner and his trio, and he passed along a few words about how it has been going.

“Most of the process over the last two days of rehearsal was collaborative. We all bring something different, yet also similar to the table. Ryan Drickey has a master’s in classical violin performance, but is now steeped in old-time and Swedish fiddle music. Ross Martin is a jazz guitarist at heart, but has a compelling country twang, and a beautiful new acoustic feel. Matt Flinner has a brilliant melodic and harmonic sense, as well as a bold touch to setting the stringband in such creative and innovative ways. Bassist Eric Thorin has a wicked ear and some phenomenal chops. And since improvisation is a core tenet of stringband music, we have arranged some pieces with space for solos where appropriate. Sometimes we have followed the markings on the original score closely, yet others we took the spirit of the piece and ran with it.

It has been a blast arranging this with the band. I worked a lot on tunes over the winter, but it is great to hear this music from a piano score come to life. And the Flinner Trio is so skilled as a unit at working up new material, with incredible rhythmic and harmonic adeptness.”

Later this year, Schepps will return to finish the project, recording with Drickey again on fiddle, Grant Gordy on guitar, and Ian Hutchison on bass, who perform with him as The Expedition Quartet. A couple of banjo duets are expected as well, with Jayme Stone and Noam Pikelny, and one with banjo and nyckelharp, a traditional Swedish bowed instrument, similar to a hurdy gurdy.

This as-yet untitled project is not slated for release until May 2011.

We had written about Jake and his quartet last month when they were preparing to travel to Russia to compete in the 1st Annual Terem Crossover Competition in St. Petersburg. As its name implies, this contest is about music that spans various genres, and Schepps and crew were invited to participate based on entry videos.

Here is a video travelogue they prepared from their visit which, alas, did not result in the winning of valuable prizes.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.