Husband and wife Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn are both banjo-music greats in their own right.
Fleck is the innovator, experimenter, the rock star and the technical master whose name is synonymous with the instrument he helped bring from the boonies to the fringes of American culture. Washburn, meanwhile, is the out-of-the-box songbird, the quirky and razor-sharp storyteller who weaves Chinese folk with old-time clawhammer banjo picking.
When they pool their prodigious talents, you might expect their singular sounds to combine into something wildly out-there, a kind of banjo hydra that overpowers itself.
Instead, their October 2014 album, “Bela Fleck, Abigail Washburn,” is a deliberate, restrained and gorgeous collection of understated banjo tunes that ripple and shimmer beneath Washburn’s distinctly beautiful vocals.
“That’s a real draw for me, Abby’s ability to go simple and deep,” Fleck said in an email interview. Playing with his wife, he said, “is an opportunity for me to visit places that I don’t get to very often.”
Fleck and Washburn will bring their banjo duo – a relatively rare musical pairing – to the Community Concert Hall for a performance Tuesday night.
Despite their common musical interest, the pair has toured separately for most of the 10 years they’ve been a couple. But with the birth of their son, Juno, they were given a new reason to spend as much time together as possible. They recorded their album shortly after Juno’s birth, and have been touring together since he was three months old.
What began as an excuse to spend time together has turned into a fruitful musical partnership. Their music, which travels through the realms of old folk, Appalachian classics, blues and original, resembles a conversation between banjos. The instruments murmur, chatter, patter playfully and come together in melodious pulses of picking.
Fleck plays a three-finger style, and Washburn plays clawhammer. In spite of their different styles, Fleck said, playing together comes pretty naturally.
“We found out a long time ago how easy it was to play together, which was part of how we knew we wanted to explore this someday,” Fleck said. “We meet in the ripples. Abby ripples on old time banjo, and I ripple on three-finger style. We just need to listen well to each other, and we lock together pretty easily.”
Fleck said playing with Washburn does, indeed, feel like conversing through strings. They keep it extra interesting by carrying seven or eight banjos with them on tour, switching it up for each tune, and the process has forced both of them out of their comfort zones a little bit.
“Having different types of banjos and different roles to play on different songs keeps us both on our toes,” Fleck said. “We wanted both of our personalities to remain intact, and yet we wanted to push each other to be different that they would normally be. I think we both bent, while remaining strong.”