Colorado banjo man Jake Schepps has spent much of the past few years attempting to redefine how the five string banjo is viewed in the music world. Coming to the instrument initially from a fascination with bluegrass, something he retains to this day, Schepps has made it his mission to find new opportunities for the banjo to be heard by music lovers in other genres, most especially in modern classical music.
After releasing an album in 2011 celebrating the music of Béla Bartok, An Evening In The Village, Jake commissioned pieces from a number of contemporary composers, written for the traditional bluegrass band ensemble. He didn’t impose stylistic restrictions, simply insisting that the new pieces be scored for banjo, mandolin, guitar, bass, and fiddle.
Now, following several years of compiling, rehearsing and recording, The Jake Schepps Quintet has released Entwined, a new album featuring these four new compositions, long-form pieces by Marc Mellits, Matt McBane, Matt Flinner, and Gyan Riley. The music is performed by Jake on banjo, Flinner on mandolin, Grant Gordy on guitar, Enion Pelta-Tiller on violin, and Eric Thorin on bass.
It’s not bluegrass by any stretch, nor was it meant to be, but instead the vision of several composers more familiar with the symphonic family on instruments, expressing their art through the bluegrass band format.
Here’s a taste of the album’s opening track, the first movement of Flatiron by Marc Mellits, titled Tension Hoop. It was filmed as the piece was being recorded in 2012, with the composer present.
Additional video and audio samples can be accessed online.