Home » Jazz Articles » Album Review » Bela Fleck: Rhapsody In Blue


Bela Fleck: Rhapsody In Blue


Sign in to view read count
Bela Fleck: Rhapsody In Blue
It's a long way from India to Broadway, but Bela Fleck makes the journey in high style for Rhapsody in Blue. It follows the altogether exotic As We Speak (Thirty Tigers, 2023), the combination of which further a case for the banjoist/composer/bandleader as an eclectic musical explorer comparable to Pat Metheny.

Beginning in the slow-but-sure, occasionally fitful way this album's concept came together, "Rhapsody in Blue (grass)" features seemingly conventional banjo voicings alternated with George Gershwin's inimitable progressions. Those interludes with Fleck tourmates My Bluegrass Heart are segments capturing how that ensemble bonds with the banjoist in moments of alternating wit and empathy.

The slightly-modified title of "Rhapsody in Blue(s)" is only the most overt distinction of the piece from its bluegrass oriented predecessor. As with so much of Bela Fleck's work, while it is rigorously arranged, there is room for spontaneity with which the principal interacts, via effortless fluidity, with mandolinist Sam Bush. dobroist Jerry Douglas and bassist Victor Wooten (from the Flecktones band).

There's a very palpable earthy quality to distinguish this number from all its surroundings. Mixing of the instruments all across the stereo spectrum accentuates the distinctive flavor of the interplay there, so that, in a very practical way, Fleck makes Gershwin's piece his own in a variety of forms, large scale and otherwise. In extensive autobiographical liner notes filling most of the four-page insert, the artist himself describes in some detail the conception and execution of this project .

Audio clarity is also paramount on an unheralded artifact of Gershwin's genius, "Unidentified Piece for Banjo." Long-time Fleck sound guru Richard Battaglia captures the good-natured reverence the New York City native radiates in his solo turn here: the album was assigned a release a street date coinciding with the hundredth anniversary of the original piece's premiere. It's a sign of the respect also accorded its author by the gold foil adorning the front cover (the image of which at the same time pictures a banjo in the hands of Lady Liberty thus capturing Bela Fleck's irreverence in all its self-effacing glory)

As much as it's borderline uncanny to hear the mesh of musicians within the smaller combos or the uncanny action of this Nashville-based artist on his own, the extended centerpiece of Rhapsody In Blue, evokes a reaction hardly less startling. In a near-nineteen minute live recording of the title piece with the Nashville Symphony, the drama of the orchestration underscores the nuance of the core ensemble, while simultaneously exhibiting a subtlety all its own.

It's proof positive chemistry can ignite within units both large and small (and sometimes both at once). As a result, the truncated likes of the closing "Rialto Ripples" is virtually as absorbing as the four tracks that precede it. Piquing the curiosity about how the classic compositon sounded to begin with, it's also a reminder of how this slightly more than forty- three minutes passes with near-dizzying speed.

The relative simplicity of the aforementioned cut generates incremental momentum for the track sequencing. The end result is a singular opportunity to experience the assembly of the building blocks of an idea that struck the banjoist extraordinaire seemingly out of nowhere.

Kudos to Bela Fleck for summoning the creative wherewithal and resources to bring his epiphany to fruition: ultimately, he incorporates his lifelong affinity for the iconic composer's work with his usual unassuming flair for maximizing the spirit of the moment with others.

Track Listing

Rhapsody in Blue(grass); Rhapsody in Blue(s); Unidentified Piece for Banjo; Rhapsody in Blue; Rialto Ripples.


Sierra Hull
Sam Bush
Jerry Douglas
Virginia Symphony Orchestra
band / ensemble / orchestra
Additional Instrumentation

Michael Cleveland, fiddle; Justin Moses, dobro; Bryan Sutton, guitar; Eric Jacobsen: conductor.

Album information

Title: Rhapsody In Blue | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Self Produced/Thirty Tigers


For the Love of Jazz
Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.



Open Me: A Higher Consciousness of Sound and...
Kahil El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble
Modern Art Trio
Franco D'Andrea, Franco Tonani, Bruno Tommaso.
Chicken Shit Bingo
Brötzmann / Nilssen-Love


Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.