Béla brings Flecktones to Belly Up | AspenTimes.com

Béla brings Flecktones to Belly Up

Banjoist Béla Fleck leads his quartet, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, to two shows at Belly Up Aspen tonight. (Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN Béla Fleck and the Flecktones took 2005 off from their ceaseless touring that began back in 1988. It’s no surprise that a 17-year-old group needed some time doing something different. In Fleck’s case, that meant traveling to Africa to record with dozens of musicians, writing a triple concerto with bassist Edgar Meyer and Indian percussionist Zakir Hussain, and performing with an all-star bluegrass trio in the States.”It was a busy year, the busiest year I’ve ever had,” Fleck said by phone from his home in Nashville. “It’s a relief to be back in the band. It’s a great place to come home to.”Béla Fleck and the Flecktones recently finished a successful European tour, and play a pair of shows in Aspen tonight, Thursday, Feb. 8 at Belly Up Aspen, as part of an American winter tour. It’s an unusual small club appearance for a band that usually plays two- or three-thousand-seat theaters. “I’ve been to the Belly Up and it seemed like it would be fun for us to play that kind of place,” Fleck said, mentioning some time he spent here last summer, when he hit up a few shows at the venue. “Sometimes we really go into some, I don’t know how to put it, the band gets really loose and we just start trying stuff. That’s why we try clubs sometimes.”When the Flecktones get going and do some of that improvisation Fleck so casually discusses, there is truly something magic, though part of it might be the all-star cast.Bass player Victor Wooten is often considered the best bass player in the world. His brother, Roy “Future Man” Wooten, holds down the percussion side with an instrument he invented, the synthaxe drumitar, a MIDI drum machine in a guitar-like shape. And sax player Jeff Coffin is one of the few people who can play the alto and tenor saxophones at the same time. “This is about a style of music we’ve created that we’re continuing to play,” Fleck said. “There’s a lot of juice left, it’s like a really great marriage.”

Into AfricaOnce the time off was set, however, Fleck was off on his trip to Africa. He traveled to Mali, Uganda, Tanzania and Gambia for about a week each. Beforehand, he had been listening to all the recorded music he could get his hands on from those countries. He singled out musicians he wanted to perform with and set up contacts so they could play together. Though Fleck said there is a link to the banjo in Gambia – where people even play in the claw-hammer style – the trip was more about a passion for Africa than a search for the banjo’s roots. “I knew it would be a stretch for me and a revelation for people to hear these guys,” Fleck said. “I found all these amazing people, played with them, recorded with them and filmed them.”At this point, Fleck is working on a deal with a record label for the large amount of material that came out of his trip. He says he’s narrowed it down to about 35 songs at this point and he’s hoping for a theatrical release of the film.

Classical on one side, jazz on the otherBack in September of 2006, Fleck, Meyer and Hussain finally got a chance to perform the triple concerto they had written. The full Nashville Symphony performed along with the trio for the opening of the $30 million Nashville Symphony Hall; the concerto was broadcast live on PBS.”We got it, as much as you can get something that difficult,” Fleck said. “Everyone was all dressed up. It’s weird but it’s not the most musical situation for me. I like to put myself in positions that are not as high stress, still difficult but where you don’t get tensed out. Live television performances are not a good way to get relaxed.”He said he would like to get the piece recorded in a studio but that it may be unlikely because of the cost of getting the whole symphony together. He did have time to get into the studio recently, however, though on a different musical spectrum.In December, Fleck and jazz piano great Chick Corea recorded a duet that is expected out in March. He said that they both composed songs for the album and that they will tour together during the spring and summer of this year. The duo is scheduled to perform at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in June; Fleck is also scheduled to play the festival with the Flecktones, and as part of the Telluride House Band.The Flecktones

As for the Flecktones, their latest album, “The Hidden Land,” came out in 2006, but was recorded before the year-long hiatus. Fleck said he thinks it’s a good album but that the band is already moving on and creating new songs. “It’s feeling really good to play with the guys,” Fleck said. “It’s been 19 years since our first gig.”Time flies when you’re having fun.”Here in Aspen they will be playing two shows at the Belly Up in one night. Fleck said they have more than enough material to draw on from their nearly two decades, and will have two completely unique shows with no repeat songs.”We always make up our set list right before we go on,” Fleck said. “We might make them both before the first set or after sound check. By the end of the night you’re wide open, everything is flowing. Typically second sets are a bit hotter. It’s just happening by itself.”Bla Fleck and the Flecktones perform at 7 and 10:30 p.m. at Belly Up Aspen. 450 S. Galena St. Tickets are $42.Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com

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