Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
If the need ever arises to classify the musical influences and interests of banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck in a single word, eclectic will do. Perpetual Motion, his 2001 solo collection of classical inventions and etudes, added another bold Grammy-winning excursion to a career that includes work in contemporary jazz, numerous forays into the funk/jam genre and tremendous contributions to the contemporary folk scene. Fleck’s Live at the Quick, which compiles live cuts from his summer 2000 tour, delves into all of his varied instrumental interests. An odd assortment of musicians — including double-reed players, an Indian tabla player, a steel drummer and even Mongolian throat singers (Andy Narell and Congar ol’Ondar) — augments the Flecktones’ already formidable lineup (bassist Victor Wooten, saxophonist Jeff Coffin and synth-percussionist Futureman).
Amazingly, it all works. Layers of aural textures imbue tracks such as the thumping funk number “Scratch & Sniff” with a unique feel. On Fleck’s jazz waltz “Lover’s Leap,” the guest players blend seamlessly into the ensemble while veteran Flecktone Coffin contributes melodic arabesques on clarinet. A handful of solo features, like Futureman’s raucous “Ovombo Summit,” ol’Ondar’s stunning vocal showcase “Alash Khem (Alash River Song)” and Fleck’s “Improv/Prelude from Bach Violin Partita #3,” allow for unobstructed examinations of individual talent and technique.
Fleck knows his audience and delivers the goods, expanding the narrow notions of jazz/rock instrumentation and carrying on the avant-garde fusion tradition of Sun Ra and his Arkestra. Maybe even eclectic doesn’t completely encompass the essence of Fleck’s style, but it certainly describes his friends.