Burlington Discover Jazz Festival: Burlington, Vermont, June 3-12, 2011
Extended solos and ensemble playing across complex time signatures, all of which involving lightning speed changes and tradeoffs, all rendered in the casual air of four (and sometimes five, with Sparrow Quartet's Casey Driesen on violin) good friends who happen to be musicians playing for the fun of it. Fleck and The Flecktones know how good they all are, but that doesn't stop grins of admiration and appreciation from glowing across the stage at the sight of Howard Levy playing piano and chromatic harmonica! In fact, this group shared more smiles in the first one hour than most groups will display during an entire evening.
Add in the ever-so-subtle touches of theatrics---Fleck and percussionist Roy "Future Man" Wooten at opposite ends of the stage as bassist Victor Wooten and Levy laid the foundation for the second setand the thrill of being in the presence of a truly great musical unit was palpable, particularly as their marriage of high-tech and vintage approach to their instruments became apparent.
Fleck traded off his conventional banjo for two electrified versions, one of which was inlaid in the form of a guitar, while "Futureman" added in most of his drum sounds via his self-created drumitar, to which he added accents with bass drum, toms-toms and cymbals via brush. Levy played a Steinway grand piano in a style combining the formalism of classical music with a distinct ragtime feel, while Wooten coaxed sounds from his various multi-stringed basses as fluid as they were deeply resounding
Béla Fleck and The Flecktones were the crown jewel of the 2011 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, an absolutely spectacular climax to a series of shows missing a comparable number of such vivid moments as occurred the previous year. Representative of the savvy contemporary approach taken by organizers in the last few years, it was one of the first acts to be announced back in April, so anyone who cared deeply enough had months to look forward to the event and, as it turned out, on the evening itself, had the the chance to experience all the scintillating moments to meet and exceed those expectations.
Anyone whose life was consumed with the shows and events of June 3- 12 might've felt some measure of melancholy that the party was over for the year, but the quiet pleasure Fleck and company radiated in performing for the audience who intuitively appreciated how rare was this level of excellence, even apart from the stylistic distinction of the Flecktones' music (what do you call it?... jazz-grass fusion?), mitigated that melancholy. So, what's to worry about how the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival will satisfy in 2012?