CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The last time I saw banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck and the Flecktones -- at Ashland Kentucky's Paramount Arts Center in the early 1990s -- I thought it was the most fun I'd ever had at a concert.
I was only half right. Saturday night's reprise at the Clay Center in Charleston was just as much fun.
Recently, Fleck reunited with the original Flecktones lineup for a new album and tour. The four original Flecktones include Fleck on banjo, Victor Wooten on bass, Roy "Futureman" Wooten on percussion and Howard Levy on piano and harmonica.
To call them world-class musicians is an understatement. Victor Wooten is considered the most innovative bassist since Jaco Pastorius, his older brother Futureman invented an entirely new percussion instrument called the Drumitar, and Levy developed a technique for wringing an entire 12-note chromatic scale out of a 10-note harmonica. Together with longtime banjo innovator Fleck (whose against-the-common-thread banjo playing goes back to his days with Newgrass Revival), the quartet brings more music out of their respective instruments than ought to be physically possible.
Fleck and company played for nearly three hours, which might seem like a long time for purely instrumental music with very few vocal introductions. Yet Bela and the boys made the time fly, playing to an eclectic audience that included half the musicians in Charleston. The band wove seamlessly through intricate time changes and dynamic leaps that sometimes left the audience agape.
Each Flecktone also got his own extended solo. Highlights of Victor Wooten's spot included an alternately funky and beautiful rendition of "Amazing Grace" on slap bass and pinch harmonics, while his brother did things with the Drumitar and standard drums that are difficult to describe. Levy took an extended harmonica solo that quoted from "America the Beautiful" and "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring."
Toward the end of the show, Fleck played an extended solo tribute to the late Earl Scruggs that ended with a standing ovation.
Most people have a difficult time categorizing the music of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. "Banjo Jazz" is about as close as I've ever been able to come. But the one common denominator of his eccentric musical styles is that whatever he does, it will leave you smiling.Reach Rusty Marks at rustyma...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.