Béla Fleck and the Flecktones

by Michael Henningsen


November 11 - November 17, 1999

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Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
Monday, Nov. 15; El Rey Theater (21 and over, 7:30 p.m.)

Ah, the banjo. More often than not, the mere mention of the instrument or a few notes leading into a bluegrass rag conjures images of toothless old men in overalls, sitting on rickety porches singing in an English dialect known only unto themselves. Béla Fleck has worked hard to change all that. He began by adapting bebop music for banjo as a teenager in the mid-'70s, and from there quickly emerged as a premier banjoist with a firm grasp on a smorgasbord of musical styles, from traditional bluegrass on up through progressive jazz.

Although Fleck has recorded with such bands as Spectrum and New Grass Revival, he is best known as leader of the Flecktones, the band he founded in 1989 with bassist Victor Wooten; his brother, Roy "Future Man" Wooten, on a drum machine-synth guitar hybrid known as the drumitar; and pianist Howard Levy. And over the course of seven albums since their inception, the Flecktones have set about turning an entire generation on to bluegrass and jazz while turning existing jazz and bluegrass fans on their ears with an eclectic stew that pushes the boundaries of both musical styles.

The Flecktones' latest, Left of Cool (Warner Bros.), marks the debut of hornist Jeff Coffin and the first time the band has recorded without Levy, but finds the newly reconfigured group still at the top of their strangely beautiful game. Not exactly bluegrass and not exactly jazz in the truest sense of the concept, but something delightfully different and altogether satisfying.


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