Citing the “crazy time signatures, crazy chords (and) weird instruments” that distinguish the music of Béla Fleck & the Flecktones, bassist Victor Wooten admitted that “this stuff is hard” during the group’s concert at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday.
More than 1,200 people attended the final performance in the 2015-16 season of the Kauffman Center Presents series. The quartet’s daring fusion of bluegrass and jazz remains fresh 28 years after the band’s formation.
As if to compensate for a recently concluded four-year hiatus, the musicians discharged a deluge of notes in an occasionally frenzied performance that lasted almost 2 1/2 hours, not including an intermission.
Fleck was a leading light in the progressive bluegrass movement of the 1980s. On Tuesday, he applied his ingenious acoustic and electric banjo work to several styles. His efforts sometimes resembled the sitar playing of Ravi Shankar. Echoes of Jimi Hendrix could be detected on a couple of the psychedelic jams. Mostly, however, Fleck sounded like the greatest banjo player of all time.
A significant portion of the audience was partial to Victor Wooten. He is arguably the most innovative electric bassist alive. Wooten’s dazzling technique, ravishing tone, bewildering speed and brilliant harmonic concepts stupefied admirers during selections including “Sinister Minister.”
His older brother Roy Wooten, aka Future Man, is the band’s outlandish drummer. In addition to a traditional drum kit, Future Man manned a handheld electronic percussion instrument. The overamplification of a cajón he used on one selection was the sole sonic glitch in the otherwise ideal sound field.
Howard Levy, the least celebrated member of the group, proved his worth on harmonica and piano. Levy seemed to be the primary instigator of several manic jams. While each man was an admirably patient accompanist, the vigor with which the multitude of solos were taken sometimes gave the impression that the musicians were more interested in making flashy improvisational statements than in maintaining a compelling group dynamic.
The deep grooves cultivated by the Wooten Brothers prevented the most bombastic moments of the concert from inducing tedium. The intermittent stretches of tenderness, however, possessed the sort of elegant Americana associated with the classical composer Aaron Copland.
The music created Tuesday may have been difficult to play, but almost all of it was easy to enjoy.