BRING BACK THE BANJO
by Anthony Torres
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones are bringing their holiday tour to Yoshi’s from November 18 to 23, and they are a group you really should check out. When I first saw Bela Fleck and the Flecktones several years ago, they came on after Oscar Peterson, who delivered an incredibly sophisticated set of beautiful jazz standards and original compositions, and Peterson followed Arturo Sandoval, who had completely scorched the stage. When the Flecktones came on stage, the air of anticipation in the audience was palpable — which was intense, considering the two acts they had to follow.
As they began to play their particular type of jazz, anchored by Bela Fleck on banjo, it seemed historically appropriate to see someone reintegrating the banjo into jazz, especially since the banjo was integral to the early development of jazz.
Bela Fleck is one of the premiere banjo players in the world, and someone who is central to transmogrifying associations of the instrument. He has redefined the parameters of jazz by blending bluegrass, rock and country music.
The Flecktones are great because of what fl ows from the sum of their parts. The band includes Victor Wooten, whose virtuoso bass playing technique is so incredible that he is regarded by some as perhaps the best bass player in the world. As incredible as that statement may seem, Wooton won the Bass Player of the Year award from Bass Player magazine three times in a row. He’s the only player ever to win the award more than once, so that should tell you something.
Wooten’s double-thumbing technique, which was first created by Sly Stone’s bass player Larry Graham, uses the thumb to strike the string both downward and upward, like a guitar pick. In combination with his Stanley Jordanlike two-handed tapping and open hammer-pluck technique, it sets him apart from almost any other bass player on the planet and allows him to play with the lightning speed of a lead guitar player like Eddie Van Halen.
Victor’s brother, percussionist Roy Wilfred Wooten, better known as “Future Man,” is an inventor, musician and composer and a four-time Grammy Award winner.
As gifted as these guys are individually, as a group they are what Duke Ellington used to refer to as beyond defi nition. They really have to be seen and heard live — experienced, that is — to be fully appreciated. That is something you will have a chance to do this month at Yoshi’s on Fillmore.
This essay first appeared in The New Fillmore, [date forthcoming].