Bela Fleck and the Flecktones master all styles
Orpheum Theatre, Boston, April 9, 2003
BOSTON - Back a decade or two ago, Bela Fleck was best known as one of the leaders of the New Grass Revival, which put a different spin on bluegrass music. He was clearly in the bluegrass field.
But somewhere along the line, the banjo man delved far from his bluegrass roots, checking out more jazz-oriented sounds.
And now the New Yorker clearly draws a jam band kind of crowd, at least based on the very generous 2 1/2-hour show before an enthusiastic crowd.
The evening consisted of all instrumentals except for one song from Future Man, who plays something called the synth-axe drumitar and got some good funky vocals he added to the mix.
Fleck is a masterful banjo player, making it sound pretty much like a lead guitar throughout.
But this was no ego show by the leader. Fleck clearly was content time and time again to lend his backing mates, bassist Victor Wooten, sax player Jeff Coffin and Future Man do their things.
Wooten was particularly exciting on bass, thumping away and making it all look rather easy.
Coffin, who penned one of the new songs played, the very fine, "Sherpa," also showed dexterity on his instruments, especially saxophone. He occasionally stuffed two saxes in his mouth, perhaps showing off, but more importantly adding different sounds into the mix.
Yet, this wasn't a show high on flash. In fact, there was a good amount of humor. Fleck and Wooten, for example, exchanged in give and take musically where Fleck would play a little run, and then Wooten would be forced to mimic it on bass. The comedic touches lightened the evening just enough.
About the only criticism of the show as its length. The first set was about 65 minutes with the second and encore being another 85 minutes. While certainly giving of their time, Fleck and his Flecktones tended sometimes to mine the same territory a bit to often or go on too long as Fleck did when he started the second set solitary on a stool and went on and on. In this case, a bit less could have been more.
But still Fleck and his three bandmates showed that no matter whether they delved into some bluegrass and country, jazz or jammed, this is a band with a great deal of talent and musical smarts.