Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
THEIR EDGES might be a little too polished for the roots music they cherish, but support act I Draw Slowdeliver a roots repertoire that lollops through backwaters and bayous with a graceful ease. The newly-baked Bread And Butterand Santiagowere standouts, particularly when Louise and Dave Holden let those sibling harmonies soar.
It’s been 20 years since Béla Fleck recorded and played with his original Flecktones. Since the release of last year’s Rocket Science,the ether has been vibrating with the excitement of hearing harmonica ace and pianist Howard Levy back in the company of Fleck, his aptly-named percussionist and drummer Future Man, and bassist Victor Lemonte Wooten.
Despite reservations about the formality of the National Concert Hall as a setting for these masters of jazz, bluegrass, funk, blues and so much more, Fleck and his Flecktones tore up the rule book and took utter possession of the stage as if it was their birthright.
Béla’s Gibson 75 banjo cut a languid swathe through their new material, his fluid style inviting Levy’s crisply charismatic presence to the fore from the get go. Falling Forwardand Life In 11were stark and witty reminders of the kind of musical conversation these two musicians relish. With the funk-laden bass lines of Wooten and the downright brilliance of Future Man’s self-invented instrument, the drumitar, it was a musical banter that ricocheted back and forth with the lightning speed of razor-sharp comedians and the agility of acrobats. Guest fiddler Casey Driessen revved it up with some startlingly percussive interchanges with Fleck and Levy.
Amid a set list packed with virtuoso performance, standouts jostled for attention. Fleck’s electric banjo lured the action in entirely different directions, stretching, bending and sustaining notes as if they were Play-Doh. The band’s “hastily arranged” Irish medley, led by The Star of the Co Down, was the only questionable presence in the evening: a twee (if still supple) ramble through a handful of traditional tunes that never came near the highs of their own repertoire.
Still, the 20 years’ wait was more than worth it. This was one musical conversation we were glad to eavesdrop on.