Bela Fleck and the Original Flecktones
Revolutionary Musicians Take the Mayo Center By Storm
A SoundPress.net Archive Article by Rich and Laura Lynch

Formed in 1988, Bela Fleck and The Flecktones are an innovative, mainly instrumental group. The band is fronted by Bela Fleck - a banjo player whose approach to the instrument is creatively unorthodox. The Flecktones include heralded bassist Victor Wooten known for his slap/pop technique. His brother Roy "Futureman" Wooten plays an array of drums and percussion including the guitar shaped Synthaxe Drumiter which is Roy's own invention. Howard Levy on harmonica and keyboards - is also well respected in the field - and rejoins the band on this tour for the first time since 1992. The Flecktones' diverse music blends bluegrass, folk, fusion, jazz and rock in colorful and complex compositions. Bela holds the record for the most Grammy nominations in different categories.

Bela Fleck and The Original Flecktones in Concert
Bela Fleck on stage in Morristown, New Jersey.

Bela Fleck and The Flecktones played at the Mayo Center for the Performing Arts in New Jersey on Friday, November 20, 2009. This timeless theater has good acoustics and is in the heart of downtown Morristown - with plenty of cafes, history and shops nearby - allowing for a full night of entertainment.

The band stormed the stage around eight. Fleck was armed with a banjo surrounded by a purple guitar shape. Funny enough, Futureman was sporting a colonial hat and had an old world look about him but his Synthaxe Drumitar was un-worldly with its samples and drum tracks. The Flecktones opened with the flavorful "Frontiers" with Victor adding punchy plunks to the groove as Howard howled on the harmonica. Fleck's banjo was beguiling with strange sound effects emanating from the instrument.

The Flecktones are veteran musicians bringing experimentation and expertise to their jams. Each instrumental was distinct and the numerous individual solos were dynamic. The audience at the Mayo Center was very attentive absorbing the intricate interplay of the players and clapping with appreciation after solos.

"Flying Saucer Dudes" soared on bold bass lines and rushing rhythms. "Lucy in the Skys/Slipstream" started at a languid pace, expanding into lush arrangements before moving into a more galloping groove. The magical meandering continued as the mood slowed for Wooten's stellar solo and stunning interpretation of "Amazing Grace". Victor somehow played the gentle guitar leads of the song layered with rhythm. His fingers fluttered over the bass strings as the song went from subtle to spirited. The use of thumb slapping and his fast moves over the fret was flat out amazing.

The rest of the band returned for a funky foray with Bela crafting more un-conventional chord combinations from his banjo. Howard Levy was incredible all night switching from the grand piano to harmonica. Howard blew so much sound into the harp that his solos were often the highlight of a song.

Bela Fleck and The Original Flecktones in Concert
Futureman and the evening's hand-written set-list.

"Thank you. How you doing? It's good to be here," Bela said before introducing the band and moving into a moody "Mars Needs Women" and other tunes that featured tantalizing transitions and more technical tactics from all four musicians. Throughout the set Bela's solos were varied and vivid.

After a short break, Bela and The Flecktones played a nifty version of "Nemo's Dream" with its numerous notes and nuances. "Seresta" featured a solo from Futureman who conjured up all sorts of speeds and sounds from his Synthaxe Drumiter, incorporating traditional drum beats into the blends. The Flecktones' spin on The Beatles "Michelle" was magical. They added more syllables to the original structure of the song.

"Hurricane" was energetic and engaging and set the tone for a huge "Flight of the Cosmic Hippo". Bela led the crowd through finger snaps and singing as heavy rhymes added spunk to this spacious song. It segued into "The Sinister Minister" which had a giddy groove and another great solo from Victor. Wooten mixed techniques by dragging and slapping the strings combined with whammy work and thumb thumps. Futureman added some pounding percussion to the mix as Levy and Fleck finished up the instrumental foray with flair.

"Sunset" was the encore and featured more expansive explorations with Futureman singing the lead vocal. Roy has a good voice, adding to the vibrancy of the concert's closer. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones played an eclectic set of music running the gamut from bluegrass to rock. They left the stage victorious and everybody was a winner on Friday night.

Bela Fleck and The Original Flecktones in Concert
The Original Flecktones: Bela Fleck, Victor Wooten, Futureman, Howard Levy

Related Links: For more information on BELA FLECK AND THE ORIGINAL FLECKTONES and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links -- BelaFleck.com | Flecktones.com | MayoArts.org

(Originally Published on November 11, 2009)

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