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Béla Fleck and other things unexpected

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Béla  Fleck is the premier banjo player in the world. The music that he makes defies every idea of what banjo music is. This week we have an astonishing concert with Fleck, plus an equally astonishing story, called The Cusp Walkers, about a strange, and apparently common childhood practice, both dangerous and disturbing, by writer Anne Drake.

Listen to the whole concert again, through CBC Music.

 Béla Fleck is often considered the premier banjo player in the world.

It's not often a musician is refered to as the "premiere performer in the world" of their chosen instrument. That's a tall order. Think of all the brilliant guitar players, pianists, and violinists you've heard. It would be hard for everyone to agree on who is the best on the planet. But when it comes to banjoists there's a clear leader - Béla Fleck.

If you're already a fan you don't really need an introduction. But Béla is a master of musical eclecticism. He plays everything from blue grass to be bop, traditional African music to rock. He even won a Grammy for Best Classical Crossover album in 2001. Oh - and if you're wondering about Béla's name, the answer is yes: he was named after the famous Hungarian composer Béla Bartók.

Béla joined forces with his Flecktones in 1988. There's even a Canadian connection to their beginning since he met pianist and harmonica player Howard Levy at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. After hearing Victor Lemonte Wooten play some bass licks over the phone Béla recruited him. Victor's brother Roy Wooten, otherwise known as "Futureman", rounded out the quartet.

This summer these four masterful musicians reconvened for a reunion tour. As always all manners of genres come into play, and the result is a meeting of musical minds that remains, as ever, utterly indescribable. We were able to catch up with the band at the Bessborough Gardens in Saskatoon when they were featured performers at the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival.

 Watch Bela Fleck on Youtube:


Anne Drake spends her days punctuating the statements of others and her nights stringing words together under endless prairie skies. She received the John Spencer Hill Award for short fiction in 2004 and was published in the anthology The Grist Mill.