There was a home coming when BÃ©la Fleck & TheÂ FlecktonesÂ appeared at Norfolk’s The Roper Theater, a venue that rests less than a quarter mile away from where they first started performing at Town Point Park in 1988.
With local ties through theÂ WootenÂ brothers, bassist Victor and percussionist/drumitaristÂ Roy, akaÂ FutureMan, (both born and raised in Newport News) the night felt like a local band came home to play for friends and family.
Reuniting for this tour, the group sounded like they had never been apart. The real star of the evening was the music, asÂ BÃ©la announced “a little of the past, the present and the future,” and when these outstanding musicians took over the stage the audience realized they were in the company of genius.
Howard Levy, the guy Fleck calls “the man with two brains” has the uncanny ability to play both piano and harp simultaneously with more feeling and dexterity that most can’t do with one at a time. Levy opened the 2nd half of the show with a jazz, blues, soulful harp solo of the spiritual “Wade in the Water” that segued into “RondeauÂ deÂ Mouret” (
VictorÂ Wooten’sÂ hands were a blur as he Â performed a jaw dropping 15 minute version of “Sex in a Pan;” a version so electrifying and acrobatic that it should have come with a warning.
His older bother,Â FutureMan,” playing a new evolution of hisÂ drumitar — which is described as aÂ MIDIbasedÂ device that allows him “trigger samples using his fingers” — sounded like an entire percussion ensemble.
Playing a variety of banjos, Fleck showed the versatility and musicality that has made him the premier banjo player of his day. Reverting back to an old school acoustic banjo, Fleck played a moving tribute to his idol, EarlÂ Scruggs, who had passed away a month previous. In introducing this last segment of the show, VictorÂ WootenÂ acknowledged that if there had not been an Earl ScruggsÂ then there would not have been aÂ BÃ©la Fleck.
As outstanding as these musicians were separately, they were even more dynamic as a whole, and with the addition of the creativeÂ fiddle player, Casey Driessen, the group took on another dimension.Â Never getting in the way of the music, the ensemble demonstrated a type of musical kinship and courtesy that can only come with time and hard won mutual respect. They anticipated riffs, stepped out of the way so that one another could inject himself into the tune at hand and never tried to outdo each other. It was musicianship and music at its finest and there is no doubt that it will be quite a long spell before something like what was witnessed in Norfolk will come this way again.