Across the Imaginary Divide


If there’s a new challenge, Béla Fleck and his banjo are always ready to take it on. Marcus Roberts is also an adventurer; from the earliest days of the pianist’s career and throughout his near quarter-century as a leader, Roberts has aimed to redefine the jazz piano trio in part by de-emphasizing the piano’s dominance and throwing more responsibility to the rhythm section. On Across the Imaginary Divide, that delegation sometimes works the way it’s supposed to—but not always. Fleck’s banjo is so distinctive and forceful that Roberts at times comes off as a sideman rather than co-leader. Even Roberts’ trio mates, bassist Rodney Jordan and drummer Jason Marsalis, seem to push harder here when Fleck is pointing the way. The title track is an example of the collaboration cohering more democratically. Atop the rhythm section’s jaunty, propulsive cadence, Roberts and Fleck dance intimately, each working the nuances of the melody and playfully goading the other onward. –Jeff Tamarkin

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