Tim Lake and the 5 string Banjo: Live in Tokyo, Japan (Padraig Records)
Tim Lake

By Bob Mitchell

What do Antonio Vivaldi, Duke Ellington, Earl Scruggs, Johnnie Mercer, George Frideric Handel, Bill Monroe, Charlie Parker and Rentaro Taki have in common? They provided inspiration for one of the most unusual and, perhaps,. unique, recordings I ever heard. Tim Lake's liner notes make it clear: "My objective in making this recording was to showcase the five-string banjo by performing many types of music, enabling the listeners to enjoy the instrument's wide range of emotional expression."

Well, folks, Tim Lake has done that. He seems determined to convince the world there are no boundaries for his beloved banjo. Tim Lake and the 5 string Banjo: Live in Tokyo, Japan is a continuation of the theme set forth in his earlier recordings, such as An American Concerto for 5 string Banjo and Orchestra and Jazz with Bluegrass and Blues. A 1995 review of an American Concerto in Dirty Linen Magazine called that CD "one of the most ambitious and eclectic works ever written for banjo. The work is a banjoistic meltdown that draws from fiddle tunes, jazz, American and European folk and blues."

Lake has assembled six vocals and eight instrumentals, two of which are likely to be the most unusual you ever heard, into 57 minutes of strange and interesting arrangements and medleys. Consider "Vivaldi's Breakdown," filled with Earl Scruggs-esque licks. Two Ellington classics, "Satin Doll" and "Caravan," are combined with a traditional Andean folksong, "El Condor Pasa"!

"Cherry Blossoms" is a beautiful traditional Japanese folk song with accompaniment from Shofu Yoneya on the shakuhachi, a bamboo flute. "Tsugaru Duet" is a spontaneous five-minute jam session with Jo Fujii on the shamisen, a kind of fretless Japanese banjo.

The lyrics to "I Can Play The Banjo/Chromatic Shuffle", and "Eat Only When You're Hungry," clearly, confirm his desire to make the world a better place using his music and banjo. Those who like the old-time sound will find solace in "Cripple Creek" and "Pretty Polly."

Lake has a good time when he plays and the project is punctuated with musical jokes. The one that made me laugh out loud was "Handel's Dueling Banjos Con Alleluia Y Sarbande." He actually had a Japanese audience singing the famous Alleluia Chorus for the "Messiah!!"

If you like banjo music, this CD should be in your collection, as it is probably unlike anything you have heard, {Bela Fleck not excluded.} To get a copy, contact Tim at Padraig Records, PO Box 22164, Lexington, KY 40522-2164.