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Bela Fleck and the Flecktones at Rams Head Live

Jul 20, 2011 04:40PM ● By Anonymous

After a short-notice location change from Pier Six Pavilion to Rams Head Live prompted by forecasts of brutal storms, legendary versatile banjo player Bela Fleck and his widely revered and respected group The Flecktones were able to put on a superb show for a packed house of enthusiastic fans on Thursday, July 7th. The group has been touring with their original lineup, which includes brothers Victor and Roy Wooten and Howard Levy.

One aspect that made this show incredibly unique and enjoyable for the audience was a seamless transition between each act. Opener Abigail Washington and her country-blues band hosted several members of young ragtime/bluegrass/blues/hip hop group The Carolina Chocolate Drops for a collaborative jam at the end of their set, eventually leaving stage as the jam continued, making way for the Chocolate Drops’ fantastic set.

The group’s old-fashioned influences are apparent throughout, though they also feature an amazingly broad range of styles from today- including the impressive beatboxing of Adam Matta. Near the end of the group’s performance, members of the Flecktones sat in with the group, just as The Carolina Chocolate Drops had done with Abigail Washington’s band. Making another smooth transition through a bluesy jam number that played to the strengths of most of the individuals on stage, the musicians swapped and the Flecktones were ready to break into their deep catalog.

Each member of the band possesses jaw-dropping ability on their respective instruments, and the group’s wide ranging jazz and bluegrass styling allows each of them time to let their virtuosity shine. While Fleck switches between acoustic and electric banjos, Victor Wooten mans the bass. To say that Wooten is an innovator of the instrument would be a criminal understatement. Watching Victor Wooten play the bass is akin to what it must have been like to watch Picasso paint. His highly unorthodox style of slapping, sliding and strumming creates masterpieces of bass foundations, woven tightly and intricately throughout the rest of the band’s playing. Wooten seemed to be in good spirits for the appearance at Rams Head, as his wide smile rarely faded.

Victor’s brother, Roy, (nicknamed “Futureman”) has created and mastered a modified version of a hand-held electronic drum machine. Donning a pair of headphones and standing alongside the rest of the band as the sole percussionist, the dynamic of the group is a shift from nearly any group with a drum set. The originality of Roy’s art finds him right at home with the Flecktones among fellow innovators and skilled musicians of the highest degree.

Rounding the group out is Howard Levy, an accomplished jazz pianist in his own right, and a gifted harmonica player to boot. Levy’s smooth jazz chords and melodic harmonica leads can take the band in a different direction at any given moment; whether that direction is a slower cool jazz section or upbeat bluegrass number with a searing hot harmonica lick, the changes are nearly always executed flawlessly. Leading the crowd through some of the group’s best loved tunes, the band left no musical corner unexplored and thoroughly poured their hearts and souls into each number’s improvisational section. Several numbers included a sit-in by fiddle player Casey Driessen, who added warmth and depth to the bluegrass aspects of the band’s playing. As the evening neared an end and the band members introduced each other with some friendly banter, Bela Fleck explained the group’s style as a mix between bebop jazz and bluegrass; for which the term was coined “Blu-bop”, also the name of one of the group’s most well known songs.

Closing with the song, audience members had to suspect some sort of sit-ins for the encore after the nature of each group’s transitional set ending. Sure enough, each member of all three bands of the evening (twelve musicians on stage total) came out for a spirited and rousing encore of the blues number “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”. The encore had a special feeling, and the feeling on the way out of the building was that each member of the audience had seen something unique and special. Undeniably, they had.

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