Live At The Quick
is unlike any other CD you'll hear this year, or perhaps ever again in your lifetime. It's that
And to declare that Béla Fleck has transformed the banjo isn't an exaggeration; it's the simple truth. In the same way that Toots Thielemans found potential in a novelty instrument that was played, as Thielemans puts it, "when someone in a movie went to the electric chair or when cowboys sat around a campfire," Fleck used his the work of his inspiration, Flatt & Scruggs, to expand upon the banjo's basic language.
Fleck realized, when few others did, that the banjo is a multi-cultural instrument whose unique sound could inspire people around the world. Its use in bluegrass or minstrels served as a reference point that anchored the banjo's sound even as Fleck took it into new territory through technical elaboration.
Fleck's interest in the characteristic sounds of instruments whose paths are less traveled led him to investigate how steel pans would sound with the banjo. Then, why not try a bassoon, the double reeds rarely being used in environments outside those of classical music? Once Jamaican allusions and investigations of an infrequently heard classical instrument are covered, why not throw in some ragas, performed, as is done by all of the musicians who work with Fleck, without apparent restraint? And while audiences have heard banjos, bassoons, saxophones, steel drums and tablas in various settings, Fleck introduces a style of singing that I, frankly hadn't heard before, and I doubt if you have either: the amazing (and I use the word "amazing" with all due deliberation) Tuvan throat singing by Congar ol'Ondar. Wordless and apparently rhythmless, except for ol'Ondar's internal timing that's expressed through the swelling of dual tones sustained somewhat like those of bagpipes, the throat singing has the how-does-he-do-that? ability to quiet an audience.
After Fleck has gathered his own band, as well as his special guests who include reed man Paul McCandless, the group is off and running with an unpredictability manifested in shifting time signatures, changing instrumentation and the merging of American folk and jazz idioms with, for example, Middle Eastern modes or Indian Tal.
Well, the preceding 5 paragraphs are a lot of words that dance around the fact that Fleck's unconventionality results inevitably in on-stage excitement.
You can hear it among the audience at the Quick Center for the Arts at Fairfield University. The excitement, both on stage and among the listeners, crackles from CD to one's ear drums. In spite of the unfamiliarity with the music, the audience not only accepts it, but embraces it, the universal emotions of the musician going right from the instruments' bells or skins or strings or vocal chords to the hearts of the listeners.
Traversing a range from hoe-down on, obviously, Aaron Copland's "Hoedown" to classical as Fleck plays banjo Bach and on to pure indescribable jamming on "Earth Jam," The Flecktones and guests employ superlative musical talents to inspire the audience.
Exploring new boundaries of music through constant touring and connecting with fans throughout the world, Béla Fleck has reached a status that Duke Ellington described as "beyond category." If you haven't heard The Flecktones before, Live At The Quick
serves as an irresistible invitation to join his global hoe-down.