Banjo is a much worldlier instrument than stereotypes would give it credit for: to begin with, its roots are in Africa, not Appalachia. BŽla Fleck has done a lot to broaden the music world’s banjo-consciousness. He met with particular success on his fine collaboration with V.M. Bhatt on Waterlily Acoustics, drawing on commonalities of East and West aesthetics. The album works better than some of Fleck’s own, more plugged-in records with his group, the Flecktones. A Flecktones-ish quality inevitably pervades Japanese banjoist Akira Satake’s album Cooler Heads Prevail (Alula 1003; 51:08), which is actively engaged in a culture-mashing, genre-expanding mission.
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