An interesting question was posed online recently. It went like this: 'What is the one phrase that means nothing to the outside world, but everybody in your field will know exactly what it means?" In bluegrass, one immediately comes to mind: "The way Earl did it." Nothing more need be said, and everyone reading this knows the reference to Earl Scruggs' transformational banjo style.
As a central element of traditional bluegrass instrumentation, the banjo probably should get more respect. With all due respect to Mr. Scruggs, the richest collection of banjo players of any generation is performing and recording these days, and Ned Luberecki falls squarely in that group.
Luberecki was a member of Chris Jones' Night Drivers for many years and left, joining the Becky Buller Band. In the meantime, he recorded this outstanding album of traditional and traditional-sounding compositions.
"Take Five" is a bold choice for an album title, echoing as it does the title of Dave Brubeck's breakthrough work in the field of jazz piano in the 1950's. Luberecki covers that song to great effect, thus justifying his choice.
Every cut of "Take Five" (written by Paul Desmond) is delivered with obvious relish and skill. Luberecki, understanding that banjo is as much percussive as it is melodic, has brought in some stellar sidemen to deliver the goods, including Jeremy Garrett on fiddle, most of the Night Drivers, Ms. Buller, Dale Ann Bradley, Amanda Smith and guitarist Stephen Mougin.
Especially tasty is "Cleveland Park" a traditional instrumental with a rolling banjo line. But there's no pinning Luberecki down here. Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk" is delivered in a fashion, which calls to mind not only New York jazz clubs, but with a bit of Texas roadhouse grit. Buck Owens ("Medley") and Antonio Carlos Jobim ("Girl From Ipanema") compositions also pop up. To say nothing of The Star Trek Theme, which closes out the collection.
Despite this polymath display, the most satisfying tunes are the traditional ones, notably a smooth medley of two Mixlodian fiddle tunes "Kitchen Girl" and "Squirrel Hunter" which is as fun to listen to as it must have been to play. "Earl's Court," written by Luberecki as a sort of tribute to Scruggs features sweet syncopation, rolls and interplay of mandolin, guitar, fiddle and Luberecki's banjo.
Maybe Luberecki's "Take Five" is not precisely the way Earl would have done it, but Ned did good.