“Fleck is surely the finest banjo player on the planet” – Guardian
“They nearly always come back,” said Béla Fleck. “All the people that leave bluegrass. I had a strong feeling that I’d be coming back as well.”
2021’s My Bluegrass Heart is that return the fifteen-time Grammy winner is talking about – the third chapter in a decades-spanning trilogy which, by his counting, started with 1988’s Drive and continued with 1999’s The Bluegrass Sessions. Over the long and lauded course of his unique creative run, Fleck – the world’s premier banjo virtuoso and a celebrated musical adventurer – has both dug deep into his instrument’s complex global history and unlocked the breadth of its possibilities. My Bluegrass Heart is a homecoming in sound, to be sure.
And when you travel, you bring home something new. When the endlessly curious Fleck prepared to make The Bluegrass Sessions, for example, he contemplated some other musical wanderers: “It was ten years after the Drive album, and I had been doing the Flecktones for all that time; I was coming back thinking hmm… what have I learned that I can bring back to bluegrass?” he said. “It resonated with me how Coltrane and Charlie Parker, after studying a lot of music from outside of the jazz world, brought some truly great things back to it from the outside.”
In some ways, Béla Fleck has always thought of himself as coming from the outside of bluegrass. “I don’t come from the South, and I always felt like there were people who were more truly focused on doing that bluegrass thing really well. What I tended to want to do more was expand the banjo’s role and look for new things to do with it. Despite that, I was always a bluegrass guy first and foremost. That was certainly the root of my musical soul.”
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