Bela Fleck and the Flecktones Lexington, Kentucky / April 6, 2004 Live Music Archive
Author's note: This is the first of what hopefully will be an ongoing series of reviews of legal free music downloads from various internet sources. This is one of several Bela Fleck concerts available at the Live Music Archive, which posts audience recordings of concerts by artists who allow such tapings.
Bela Fleck's music has grown more thoughtful over the years, and those moments highlight this concert with the banjo player's bluegrass-fusion group.
This two-hour performance, recorded on-stage by Jon Ice in Lexington, Kentucky on April 6, 2004, is a 168.2 megabyte MP3 download from www.archive.org/audio . The recording quality is decent overall and better than many other Flecktones downloads, although the mix is a bit bottom-heavy and light on treble. Nobody is lost in the mix, but there also isn't a great deal of sparkle to brighter instruments such as Fleck's banjo and Jeff Coffin's sax. Overall it's a shade inside my comfort margin for background music if company is over.
The group plays a few familiar hits to open and close the showalthough their landmark song "The Sinister Minister" is nowhere in sightbut there aren't any big moments of energy or creative solo inspiration found among them. The real highlights are a number of extended lower-key originals showcasing various players in solo or minimally accompanied settings.
Bassist Victor Wooten displays a depth seldom heard commercially on a fourteen-minute solo track where he progresses from soothing ballad to blues to free jazz to all-out slap bass rock insanity (too far, perhaps), providing his own percussion and harmonics along the way. He and Coffin also provide a less artistic, but more fun, bit of upbeat R&B interplay on the seven-minute "Vic/Jeff."
Also noteworthy is the always crowd-pleasing Future Man, who gets several chances to hammer out lengthy percussion solos on his Synthaxe Drumitar in styles not heard on any of the commercial Flecktones CDs. His romps on the novel guitar-like instrument prove he is a player of considerable talent in addition to an audience favoriteeven if one really needs to see him to fully appreciate the full effect.
Fleck's playing is seldom less than masterful and that is generally the case here, but there are few attention-getting moments due partially to him consistently being too far back in the mix. He is best heard near the end of the concert on a series of short solo tunes by fiddling legend John Hartford, which are pleasing but don't linger in the mind like the evening's best moments.
This isn't a bad introduction to the Flecktones for new listeners, although the group's self-titled debut or the two-disc Live Art concert album are much better representations. Fans familiar with their work will almost certainly find this worthwhile, if not a favorite, to capture some of Fleck's sidemen showing a bit more depth than usual.
Personnel: Bela Fleck, banjo; Victor Wooten, bass; Jeff Coffin, sax; Future Man, Synthaxe Drumitar.
Tracks: Intro; Next; Sex; Latitude; Band Introductions; Bill Mon; Futch Solo; Futch/Bela; Off The Top; Something; Vice Solo; Vic/Jeff; Sleeper; Am Latin; Bela Solo; Moment So Close.