Free Bartok track from Jake Schepps

Colorado banjoist Jake Schepps is expecting a Spring 2011 release for his ambitious album of music by 20th century Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. With Christmas approaching, he is offering a free download of one of the tracks, taken from Bartók’s Romanian Christmas Carols.

An Evening in the Village: The Music of Béla Bartók contains Schepps’ arrangements of 18 pieces for the modern string band format. Jake recorded over the course of 2010 in settings that range from a full bluegrass quintet to trios with banjo, guitar, and cello, plus a number of duets.

The album was produced by Schepps with assistance from Jayme Stone and Matt Flinner. Joining him in the studio were his touring band, the Expedition Quartet (Grant Gordy, Ryan Drickey and Ian Hutchison), the Matt Flinner Trio (Ross Martin and Eric Thorin), bassist (and former Punch Brother) Greg Garrison, and cellist (and former Sparrow Quarteter) Ben Sollee.

The selection of Bartók as a source for banjo arrangements isn’t so odd, actually. Many of his compositional themes were derived from the native folk music of eastern Europe, which he collected assiduously as audio recording technology began to appear near the turn of the prior century. On top of that, Bartók is the namesake of banjo wizard Béla Fleck.

The pieces on the album were selected from Mikrokosmos, For Children: Hungarian and Slovakian Songs, Romanian Christmas Carols, the 44 Violin Duos, and two movements from Hungarian Sketches.

Jake tells us a bit about his concept for An Evening In The Village:

“I was drawn to Béla Bartók as he was an avid collector of folk music from Eastern Europe in the early 20th century (over 8000 songs), transcribing and arranging some of these melodies for the concert setting. My initial vision was to have string band musicians reinterpret Bartók’s classical versions of folk tunes, yet as the project progressed we tackled more ambitious material, sometimes playing exactly what was written (as the Romanian Christmas Carols), and sometimes using the score as a jumping off point for more of a ‘new acoustic’ arrangement with chord changes and improvisation.

It has been an immense musical challenge, and all the musicians involved have brought so much to the pieces, as there is not a template for taking a piano score and extrapolating that to a 5-piece bluegrass band.”

To download the free track (in multiple formats), just visit Jake’s bandcamp page.

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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.