self-titled – Tony Furtado Band
Cojema Music 2001
In the Summer 2001 issue of Mandolin Magazine, Chris Thile comments, "I was
always conscious of how much copying there is on mandolin, and I didn’t like
it. Most of my influence and inspiration comes from other things". Thile’s
pontifications can be flaccidly applied to banjo music. Most banjo players,
with good reason, consciously imitate the playing of Earl Scruggs, as his
sound has often been linked to the current players gaining recognition, such
as Bela Fleck. However, players like Bela Fleck and Gordon Stone have
acknowledged their past and moved forward with mixed results. Fleck’s group
contains an esoteric rhythm section, which – despite their respective
talents – often sound unnatural and sonically strained. On the other end of
the spectrum, Stone writes the finest, most diverse music for the banjo.
Stone’s band, also, comes the closest to creating an atmosphere for the
advancement of the five-stringed instrument, but his technical aplomb does
not match Fleck’s, resulting in an unfortunate passing over by the musical
community, who willingly accept virtuosity despite the results.
Tony Furtado enters somewhere between the two musicians. While the
ever-reticent Mr. Furtado would never willingly acknowledge his virtuosity,
he does – in fact – perform on par with Bela Fleck. As far as songwriting
goes, like Stone, Furtado genre bounces adeptly, often moving through idioms
such as bluegrass, blues, reggae, African and Latin in a fleeting moment.
The two elements which potentially place Mr. Furtado and his band’s
eponymous debut beyond the other two banjo maestros are 1.) a phenomenal
supporting cast, with a traditional organic rhythm section and 2.) musical
The opening track, Waiting for Guitteau readily exhibits Furtado’s
mastery. Joined by Darol Anger, Christian Teele, Billy Rich and Scott
Amendola (to name a few), Furtado begins with a banjo tune which sounds
familiar to a multitude of Flecktones tracks. As the piece progresses, and
moves into President Garfield’s Hornpipe, a slow change occurs.
First, the band goes from a mid tempo beat to almost a Latin section. Yet,
the Latin rhythm section becomes mixed with the fiddle tune picking of Anger
and Furtado; an unlikely mix which works extraordinarily, as Irish dancers
groove in a sultry South American bar.
Along the same intellectually outrlanes as Waiting for Guitteau,
Oaktown Cili features over eight musicians grooving on an Irish jig.
Tablas mix with accordions and multiple drummers embark on a rhythmically
pleasurable piece next to Uilleann pipes. After the lengthy introduction,
the drummers enter fully, and play a hip-hop rhythm, bulwarking Furtado and
his friends’ melodic exploits; sounding akin to Fleck’s recent
middle-easternization of Aaron Copeland’s Hoedown.
Beyond the banjo pieces, Furtado has a deep knowledge of blues and slide
guitar playing. On several tracks such as False Hearted Lover,
Raliegh and Spencer and Fat Fry on the Hog Farm, Furtado’s
inventive slide play becomes the centerpiece. Off-setting the polyrhythmic
expeditions of the album’s other songs, Furtado’s blues pieces slow down the
album, allowing for diversity and a more organic experience.
At the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, when the Tony Furtado Band filled in
for an ailing Shawn Colvin, the band did an admirable job of winning over
many listeners as they conceivably outperformed Bela Fleck and the
Flecktones, who played later in the evening. Based on his live shows, and
his auspicious eponymous debut, Furtado’s name will no longer recognized as
solely a sideman, but be uttered in the halls of jamband stardom. Anything
less might well be a travesty.