Béla Fleck still all mixed up | AspenTimes.com
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Béla Fleck still all mixed up

Stewart Oksenhorn

When Béla Fleck was first discovering the wonders of music, he got turned on to bluegrass and jazz at the same time. “It really messed me up,” says Fleck of the mixed music education he received.But it messed Fleck up in the best way. For years now, in a variety of bands, Fleck has been mixing bluegrass and jazz – and funk, folk, blues, rock and classical styles – in a way that has captivated music lovers across the board. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Fleck joined mandolinist-singer Sam Bush’s New Grass Revival, an acoustic band that put a rock ‘n’ roll kick into traditional bluegrass. Later in the ’80s, sparked by a chance meeting in Aspen with bassist Edgar Meyer, Fleck joined the group Strength in Numbers, a quartet which took acoustic music further from its traditions.In 1989, Fleck formed Béla Fleck & the Flecktones, which represented yet another step into the musical unknown. The Flecktones began as one of the odder instrumental quartets ever known, featuring Fleck on banjo, bassist Victor Lemonte Wooten, keyboardist-harmonica player Howard Levy, and Future Man, who played a synthesized percussion setup of his own invention, known as the synth-axe drumitar.The group’s second CD, “Flight of the Cosmic Hippo,” released in 1991, reached No. 1 on the jazz sales charts. A series of succeeding recordings – “UFO-TOFU” and “Three Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” recorded after Levy’s departure from the group – earned Grammy Award nominations; “Live Art,” a live two-disc release which featured such guest players as Chick Corea, Jerry Douglas, Bruce Hornsby and Branford Marsalis, earned the Flecktones a Grammy win.Most recently, the Flecktones released “Left of Cool.” The CD, released last year, marked the return to a quartet, with the addition of saxophonist Jeff Coffin. It was as the quartet that the Flecktones made their most recent Aspen appearance, last spring at the Bayer-Benedict Music Tent.Béla and the Flecktones return to Aspen tonight with a concert at the Wheeler Opera House.The Flecktones’ popularity has expanded recently, as the band has opened tours for Phish, Sting and the Dave Matthews Band. Fleck has added banjo parts to recent CDs by Phish, Bruce Hornsby and the Dave Matthews Band; Matthews added vocal tracks to “Left of Cool.”Flecktones bassist Wooten has added a solo career to his work with the Flecktones. Wooten has released a pair of well-received CDs, including the recent “What Did You Say?” and toured in a drum-and-bass duo which has played at the Double Diamond.


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