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FLECK - Flecktones' Sound Gains Extra Dimensions (Chgo Trib, Aug 24, 2000)

Flecktones at Ravinia, 2000

Chicago Tribune

Thursday, August 24, 2000


Music Review


By David Royko

When the full contingent of band members and musical guests fanned

across Ravinia's stage Tuesday night, they numbered nine, playing

steel drums, bassoon, tablas, saxophones, drums, harmonica, bass and

oboe. And in the center stood the leader of this expanded version of

the Flecktones, banjoist Bela Fleck.

Even if the music world has come to expect the unexpected from Fleck,

it was still an extraordinary sight, and an even more extraordinary


Touring in support of his new CD, "Outbound," Fleck brought along

the key guests who appeared on the album, and they are much more than

window dressing. Fleck, whose Flecktones music is best described as

jazz fusion, understands how to build textures to suit the wide range

of his compositions.

Thus, the sound of the band remained lean and clear most of the

evening, even when the ranks swelled.

Fleck also is a leader who shares the spotlight, allowing all of his

sidemen numerous opportunities to solo in the pieces in which they

were most effectively utilized.

Of course, Fleck would be insane not to step out of the way when the

guests include steel drum innovator Andy Narell, tabla master Sandip

Burman and reed player Paul McCandless and regular Flecktones Jeff

Coffin (saxophones) and bass guitarist Victor Wooten.

However, for all the excitement that came with such talent, the

greatest moments occurred when the band reached back to its decade-old


For two tunes, "Mars Needs Women" and "Tell It to the Gov'nor," the

Flecktones reverted to the founding quartet of Fleck; Victor Wooten;

percussionist Roy Wooten, playing his invention, the drumitar; and

harmonica genius Howard Levy.

Levy left in the mid-'90s after three Flecktones albums, and Fleck has

yet to find a player to truly replace him. After rotating through a

stable of honorary members for a few years, they have settled in with

Coffin, a genuine jazz player who fits the band nicely.

But Levy, who lives in Evanston, remains the only Flecktone, past or

present, who can challenge Fleck, in terms of technique, creativity,

and the emotional impact his presence brings. To put it another way,

Levy is the Bela Fleck of the harmonica. Both play instruments that

historically have been ghettoized within certain genres, and each of

them have freed their instruments to the point that they are accepted

in virtually any setting.

But more than that, it is the sound that Levy brings to the band that

helped make the Flecktones unique. To hear him soaring again over the

pumping funk laid down by the Wootens, injecting an emotional heft to

convoluted time signatures--mainly 7/8 in the tunes they played

Tuesday--was almost bittersweet in that it reminded at least a few

listeners of what the band lost with his departure.

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