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Album Review

Banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck has certainly broken more boundaries than any other picker in recent memory, from his early days performing bluegrass-inspired folk compositions on Rounder in the late '70s to his quirky jazz freak-outs with the Flecktones throughout the '90s. In late 2001, this peculiar innovator released an album of banjo interpretations of classical works by Bach, Chopin, and Scarlatti. Before classical purists roll their eyes, they must remember that the banjo hasn't always been seen as the instrument of choice of backwoods musicians in the Appalachian mountains, but as recently as the 1940s was used as a primary rhythm instrument in all manner of parlor music. That being said, Perpetual Motion is a bright and unique take on several well-known classical pieces (Moonlight Sonata, Bach's Cello Suite No. 1) as well as a number of interpretations of Bach's two-part and three-part inventions. These light and brief inventions act as buffers between the longer, more dramatic pieces, but end up serving as some of the highlights of the album. With Fleck often accompanied by Evelyn Glennie on marimba and Appalachia Waltz musicians Joshua Bell and Edgar Meyer on violin and bass, these short, delicate pieces weave in and out of the album, proving that the banjo can be seen in a different light altogether. Fleck's picking is uniquely unparalleled in that he can so easily dip his feet into so many different genres with an instrument that is so quickly pigeonholed. The album drifts easily into the background, which is not necessarily a detraction but, knowing the fire that Fleck can unleash from his fingertips, it would have been nice to have a few more impassioned numbers on the album. The closest the ensemble comes to really making some noise is the final track, Paganini's Moto Perpetuo (arranged in a bluegrass style), which is not necessarily more forceful, but is certainly faster and louder.

Customer Reviews

Like Classical? You'll like this album.

Just because music from the era is called "classical" does not necessarily mean that it must remain within the bounds of the original sheet music. Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (Track 16) is incredible when played on the keyboard like it was written, but is worse by no means when played on banjo and cello. If you enjoy these popular pieces in their original form and are not too much a snob to hate change, then you will not regret buying this album. You might even enjoy enjoy watching the funny looks on your friends' faces while they try to figure out what instruments they are listening to - and the look of surprise when they find out!

Enjoyable and thought-provoking interpretation of early classical music

This album really works because Fleck plays (for the most part) the work of early musicians like Bach and Scarlatti. Though these men wrote famous "piano" music, the piano as we know it did not exist at the time. Much of it was written for the harpsichord which has plucked strings like the banjo rather than struck strings like the contemporary piano. This makes Fleck's choices here much more resonant for lovers of classical music AND the banjo/bluegrass sound. My favorite pieces are the ones that are solo banjo or just plucked instruments. Bach's partita No. 3 is beautiful.


Truly a great album. Bela Fleck can really work those fingers! The iTunes review tells it all. With appearances from big classical names like Edgar Meyer, John Williams, and Evelyn Glennie, along with Nickel Creek's Chris Thile, this is certainly worth the buy!


Born: July 10, 1958 in New York, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Premier banjo player Béla Fleck is considered one of the most innovative pickers in the world and has done much to demonstrate the versatility of his instrument, which he uses to play everything from traditional bluegrass to progressive jazz. He was named after composer Béla Bartok and was born in New York City. Around age 15, Fleck became fascinated with the banjo after hearing Flatt & Scruggs' "Ballad of Jed Clampett" and Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell's "Dueling Banjos," and his grandfather...
Full Bio

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