This eclectic instrumental exercise from celebrated maestro Tristan Scroggins is an intriguing exploration of melody and rhythmic fusion conducted on a 1920s-era four-string Paramount Style C-tenor banjo. This is a bit of a departure for Scroggins, who’s best known for his mandolin prowess.
Though eminently listenable on its surface, the copious liner notes to One Ring Circus are rather essential to a clearer understanding of both Scroggins’ influences (Bela Fleck, Mark Schatz and occasional collaborator Molly Tuttle are all mentioned) and objectives.
The eight selections include an evocative original (“Waterlooplein” – inspired by a world-famous Netherlands flea market) and a handful of traditionals, including “Seneca Square Dance,” Red Fox Waltz” and “Angeline The Baker” – which features a technique Scroggins calls “pseudo cross picking.”
There’s also a pair of standards, one jazz and one country: Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and Redd Stewart’s and Pee Wee King’s “Tennessee Waltz.” Scroggins (son of celebrated banjo player Jeff Scroggins) reconfigures the latter with what he calls “chromatic reharmonization.” Interestingly, he performs these two standards within medleys where he deftly segues and shifts between them and other songs with somewhat different signatures and styles.
As I mentioned already, for all its complexity and calculation, this is highly listenable and intriguing music that should appeal to a wider audience than just hardcore banjo enthusiasts and stylistic boundary-pushers.