Monday, November 01, 1999

Flecktones show spans jazz genres

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        At their best, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones sound like the second coming of harmolodic jazz pioneers Ornette Coleman and Prime Time. At their worst, they sound like a funky Kenny G.

        Fortunately for the crowd who witnessed the Flecktones concert Saturday night at the Taft Theatre, smooth-jazz moments were kept to a minimum. Instead, virtuoso performances and odd, interesting compositions were abundant.

        It's a lineup like no other: the leader on electric and acoustic banjos, Jeff Coffin on assorted brass, Victor Wooten (considered by many the best in the business) on bass, and Future Man, the percussionist “from the year 2050” who plays the synthaxe drumitar, a guitar-shaped electronic drum pad.

        They've been called jazz and they've been called bluegrass, but neither really describes what went down at the Taft. It the two-hour-plus show no two songs were very similar.

        At the beginning of the show you had each player walking out onto the stage individually and joining into the Ornette-like bounce of “Imagine This.” Later in the set you had Mr. Wooten alone on stage playing a lavish version of “The Christmas Song” on his bass.

        Much later, closing out the second set, Mr. Fleck sat on a stool and picked his acoustic banjo, going from a phrase from a Led Zeppelin song to a little Flatt & Scruggs.

        Future Man's time alone on stage was satisfying, too. He began by playing hollow wooden cylinders with his hand and with a mallet. He banged away on a wooden cube that also served as his seat. While he played he would intermittently press buttons on some sort of synthesizer, which set off tribal-sounding chants. Then he switched to playing a snare and bass drum, and the chanting became sweet, melodious singing. Maybe he was trying to make some point about the evolution of musical technology, but the sounds themselves had an effect on the audience greater than any sort of lesson could have.

        Mr. Coffin didn't get a solo turn. He was the most smooth-jazz-leaning member of the band, so maybe the audience was spared one of those Kenny G-style, 30-minute single notes.

        Some of the better songs the band played included “Sunset Road,” the encore “Stomp,” Mr. Wooten's “More Luv” and “Communication.” @logo1a:CONCERT REVIEW


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