Review of "Fit of Clarity" in January 2013 issue of Banjo Newsletter
By Ian Perry
Much of the New Acoustic music that has been recorded over the years by such artists as David Grisman, Tony Rice and Mark O’Connor, just to name a few, has omitted the banjo. While each of these musicians would undoubtedly have their own reasons for choosing to forgo the sound of the 5-string, I expect the desire to have to avoid having their music labeled “bluegrass” and the danger that the sound of the banjo would blur that line is at least part of the reason behind these decisions. Since David Grisman introduced his banjo-less Dawg music in the seventies, great strides have been made by players like Bela Fleck, Alison Brown and more recently Noam Pikelny and Chris Pandolfi, along with a host of others, toward showing that the banjo is capable of the softer, jazzier and less bluegrassy sounds that these other forms of acoustic music have developed.
With the 2012 release of his CD, “Fit of Clarity,” Mark Raborn does his part to show that the 5-string is capable of making a meaningful contribution to the ever growing body of jazz-based new-acoustic music. With gypsy jazz flavoured tunes like The Village Witch, Thistlewaite and the title tune, the solo sojourns Opus 56 and Sour Spring Trail and laid back pieces such as Evening Shade and Jenlee, Raborn creates a broad range of soundscapes and shows the possibilities of the banjo as heard through an ever changing kaleidoscope of sonic changes and musical designs. He makes good use of all three major techniques, rolls, melodic and single string, with the main focus on a melodic style approach. There are also plenty of modern, post-Scruggs roll patterns employed throughout his compositions, such as the Bela-esque MITI roll and the inside-outside roll found in measures 8, 9 and 10 of Fit of Clarity (see tab). Throughout the recording, Raborn’s attention to timing and tone reflect the years he has invested in becoming an experienced, well-seasoned player.
Mark began playing banjo in 1971. By 1973 he was taking lessons from Johnny Wooten and around that time he also started entering banjo contests, at which point he first came into contact with James McKinney, who was to become one of Mark’s inspirations. By mid-1983, Mark was living in the Atlanta area where he met Al Smith, a guitar player who was heavily into New Acoustic music. Mark remembers jamming regularly with Al, working up many of the “Dawg” tunes from the classic Grisman albums, as well as pieces from Tony Rice’s recordings featuring his own style of ‘new acoustic’ music. “Al already knew much of the hot, jazzy ‘new’ music,” recalls Mark, “as well as the cool guitar chord voicings and progressions for the latest contemporary acoustic tunes.”
In March 1984, Mark auditioned for James Monroe’s Midnight Ramblers. “During my audition, my playing was littered with melodic lines, jazz-inflections and lots of single-string babbling, which I considered ‘fancy stuff’: sure to impress even the most jaded bluegrass purist. However, after offering me the banjo position, James remarked with unimpressed candor:’ in a few weeks you won’t even recognize your own playing.’ He was correct.” Mark’s time with James Monroe gave him the opportunity to play with Bill Monroe and other legendary bluegrass players, giving him an authentic traditional bluegrass education to add to the more progressive playing he had done in the past.
This expansion of Raborn’s musical horizons has no doubt added to the authenticity of the original music he has compiled on “Fit of Clarity.” Well-grounded and well-rounded, this is a recording that shows not only another side of the potential of the 5-string banjo, but also an intimate insight into Mark Raborn and the vast array of musical experiences that have shaped him into the musician he has become.
Review of Fit of Clarity by Banjo Newsletter-January 2013
By Ian Perry
Review by Inland Northwest Bluegrass Association
By Mitch Finley
Unless I’m missing something, it seems that among all the traditional bluegrass instruments there is more going on that you could call ground-breaking and outside the box among banjo players than all the others. These twelve tunes by Mark Raborn are a case in point, all surprising and delightful, some downright mind-bending. At the same time, it’s not difficult to hear the influence of traditional bluegrass banjo. Lovely, to be sure: all of’em!