Culled from banjo virtuoso/investment banker/label entrepreneur Alison Brown's four Vanguard releases (1990-96), Best of the Vanguard Years is an intriguing portrait of a confident yet still-evolving

Culled from banjo virtuoso/investment banker/label entrepreneur Alison Brown's four Vanguard releases (1990-96), Best of the Vanguard Years is an intriguing portrait of a confident yet still-evolving musician and composer. Brown's melding of bluegrass, jazz, and world beats is at times stunning, tilting more toward traditional bluegrass on earlier compositions such as the rhythmic "Wolf Moon," the rambunctious "Shoot the Dog," and the gently swaying "Chicken Road." The gorgeous banjo and piano duet "Without Anastasia" is almost classical in its form and European influences, while the ever-innovative Brown taps into a kind of surf-vibe-meets-mambo on "Mambo Banjo" and Celtic sensibilities on "Cara's Way (The Little People)." Brown gets even more experimental with the delightful Eastern funk of "The Dalai Camel," and the jazz fusion of "Deep North" (featuring a didjeridou), and alternates between traditional and contemporary without sacrificing virtuosity on such cuts as "Leaving Cottondale" and "Hello, Mendocino." Elsewhere, compositions like "Look Left" and "The Inspector" give in completely to Brown's more jazzy impulses. A beautiful example of Brown's totally original art and style.—RW