Bela Fleck comes to the Vilar Center
BEAVER CREEK – Bela Fleck and the Flecktones took 2005 off from their ceaseless touring that began back in 1988. It’s no surprise that a 19-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 allstar 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.”Bela Fleck and the Flecktones recently finished a successful European tour in the Fall of 2006 and play in Beaver Creek today at the Vilar Center as part of an American winter tour. Flecktones’ 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 out there 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.”Part of that, means taking time off. Fleck said that for the most part, the group didn’t talk or see much of each other during 2005. They all had side projects and recorded various records during that time.
“It was something Victor wanted to do,” Fleck said. “I probably wouldn’t have done it myself because I feel a lot of responsibility for the band and the crew making a living.”Bela in AfricaOnce the time off was set, however, Fleck was off on his trip to Africa. He traveled to Mali, Uganda, Tanzania, 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 was more about a passion for Africa than a search for the banjos 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.
“If we played a song for two hours and I had to edit it to six minutes then it would really become a part of me,” Fleck said. “It’s affecting my approach and my ears but I couldn’t point to anything particular. It’s more of the big world of African music. If you listen to a lot of it then it comes out in your musical ideas and in your playing.”Classical on one side and 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 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.
“That’s an album we recorded very fast and very well,” Fleck said. “I’m proud of it.”The FlecktonesAs for the Flecktones, their latest album came out in 2006, “The Hidden Land,” but was recorded before the year-long hiatus and released after. 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.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.