Béla Fleck and the Flecktones TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, Ottawa ON, June 28
Published Jun 29, 2018Halfway through their Thursday night set, and seconds before Béla Fleck and the Flecktones — the bluegrass fusion jazz odyssey jam band — launched into "Mars Needs Women: Space is a Lonely Place" / "Mars Needs Women: They're Here," a bottle rocket flew into the sky from the nearby Rideau Canal, screeching through the dusk before fizzling out in a series of sparks.
It was a beautiful metaphor for the band themselves, an attention-grabbing combo that always seem to be shooting for space with their compositions, but sometimes ends up short due to their own limitations (which, ironically, seem limitless).
Still, it's the journey that matters, and on Thursday night, the Flecktones' original lineup (with multi-instrumentalist Howard Levy having re-joined the group in 2011) gave Ottawa quite the ride as they ripped through a performance that found members selecting songs at whim from a rotating set list of old and new (well, sort of) tracks.
With their ridiculous album titles and covers (Flight of the Cosmic Hippo, anyone?) and bizarre instrument combos (this is a band with a member who refers to himself as "Future Man," dresses like a pirate, and plays a one-of-a-kind midi monstrosity known as a drumitar), Béla Fleck and the Flecktones have long felt relegated to the past with their ambitious, banjo-laden sound and even odder aesthetics. (You can't even find their most recent album on Spotify, even though it came out seven years ago.)
They are, if I'm honest, pretty uncool.
Still, there's something enchanting about their brazen attempts at otherworldly art.
Not just music for the sake of musical mastery, midway through their set Fleck took a moment to mention the birth of his second son, honouring his recent arrival with a rendition of a concerto he wrote for his first — Juno — while he was stranded at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport trying to get back to his family. It was a special moment in a night of many.
Still, there were parts that waxed and waned, with the band sometimes getting lost in the groove when the audience had left it long ago. But they all got it back together for closer "The Sinister Minister," with bassist Victor Wooten playing with such full-throttle intensity he literally spun within his strap while his bass stayed perfectly still in a move that — much like the night — may have seemed frivolous to some, but was unforgettable to others.