Out of the Blue
Alison Brown has for years been a banjo innovator, taking giant steps beyond the bounds of traditional bluegrass and country. But on her fifth solo album, Out of the Blue (Compass 7 4248 2; 41:06), this priestess of picking goes even further, by employing a custom-built, electric nylon-string banjo to effectively echo the sweet sounds of guitarists like Joe Pass and Earl Klugh. The effect is a pretty, light melodic sound brought out in Brown's sinewy lead lines on songs like the Brazilian-feeling "Coast Walk," and the album's title track. Brown and her formidable quartet utilize the electric sound on about half of the cuts here, and to particularly stunning effect on "Mood Ring," a meditative, languid waltz built on Garry West's bass line. The traditional banjo tones are present as well, though couched in decidedly non-traditional settings. The acoustic picks (not to mention Brown's speedy technique-which in itself is mind-blowing) lend a darker, earthy tone to the jazzy "Road to Corossol," and make for a dizzying piano duet on the classically wrought "Rebel's Bolero." If you thought you knew the limitations of the banjo, Alison Brown challenges you to think again.