Béla Fleck & the Flecktones
Live at the Quick
Béla Fleck & the Flecktones play jazz, but it’s a trendy sort of jazz, the kind that can easily be appropriated by trust fund hippies or New Age stoner twenty-somethings who also fancy a lot of Dave Matthews and Phish in their collection. And, just like Dave Matthews and Phish, Béla Fleck & the Flecktones have released a live album that could be mistaken for a series of crowd-pleasing jam sessions. Therefore, based on the band’s audience and marketing strategy, it’s easy for fans of authentic jazz to write this New York four-piece off prematurely.
To do so, however, would be hasty and foolish. If anything, an album such as Live at the Quick proves that the band is as comfortable in an intimate, “big band” setting, as they are on their own in stadium-size venues. For this album, talented guest musicians — Paul Hanson (tenor sax, bassoon), Paul McCandless (soprano sax, oboe), Andy Narell (steel pans, keyboards) Sandip Burman (tabla), Ondar (vocals) — appeared alongside the core group for a setlist that spans the group’s discography, including Fleck’s recent dip into classical music with the prelude to Bach’s “Violin Partita No.3” — on banjo, of course.
If anything, an album such as Live at the Quick is a typical Flecktones set. Bassist Victor Wooten and his brother, the music-technology innovator Futureman, take the solo spotlight for, respectively, an improvisational “Amazing Grace,” and a frenzied “synth-ax drumitar” performance titled “Ovombo Summit.”
“Zona Mona,” a strong collaboration between Fleck and Coffin, enhanced by the full ensemble of musicians, is an especially smooth jazz number with little flamboyance. Compare that to “Scratch & Sniff,” with the deep funk of Wooten’s bass giving an urban twist to the grassroots twang of Fleck’s banjo.
The entire group (sans Ondar) unites at the end for the flowing, foot-stomping, Appalachian-esque “Hoedown.” For the few that own Flecktones albums and have not seen a live show, not buying this album would be hasty and foolish. If anything, an album such as Live at the Quick is essential to understanding and appreciating the organic nature of the band on stage. For jazz aficionados, it’s proof that the spirit of the music lives on in a more contemporary but undiminished form. As for trust fund hippies and New Age stoner twenty-somethings, they’d be better off buying another Phish bootleg.