Music » Critics' Picks

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones

Thursday, Sept. 13; Pageant

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Mentions of eclecticism are a given in any reference to banjo player Béla Fleck, and it's easy to understand why. Fleck has been stretching the possibilities of the banjo for a couple of decades now, exploring fusions of bluegrass, rock, jazz and just about any other musical style you care to name -- and he shows no signs of slowing down.Fleck may set a record for musical diversity. Last year, he and the Flecktones released Outbound, the group's widest-ranging recording ever. In addition to delivering the usual mix-and-match of styles on the banjo, Fleck plays an instrument that combines a banjo head with a sitar fretboard. As if band members Roy Wooten's bass, Jeff Coffin's horn attack and Victor "Future Man" Wooten's sci-fi drumitar weren't enough, Fleck added a grab bag of guests -- ranging from ex-Yes vocalist Jon Anderson and singer Shawn Colvin to steel-pan drummer Andy Narell.

Later this month, Fleck releases his first classical recording, Perpetual Motion, featuring banjo-driven takes on Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy -- a brave move, but just because your label says you can make a recording of classical pieces on your banjo, and just because your band has the skill to play tunes that throw together a laundry list of world-beat sounds, does that mean you should?

Only if the result is more than the sum of its parts. Fortunately, the Flecktones won't be dragging along a chamber orchestra, Jon Anderson or other musical baggage on Thursday night. It'll just be the four of them, doing what they do best -- entertaining an audience, challenging each other and creating intriguing musical connections in the process.

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