Béla Fleck & Bruce Hornsby

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Fleck and hornsby join forces for co-headlining tour

:: Béla Fleck and the Flecktones ::
:: Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers ::
:: Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield ::
:: July 24::

By Timothy Dwenger

It was more than 20 years ago when banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck and pianist extraordinaire Bruce Hornsby first crossed paths, right here in Colorado at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and they have been close friends ever since. The pair have performed as a piano/banjo duo and, of course, they have sat in with each other’s groups over the years, but they have never actually toured together with their bands in tow. This summer they are embarking on just such a tour that promises to provide some very special nights of music.

Recently, The Marquee had the opportunity to talk with both Fleck and Hornsby about how their bands have changed over the years and their plans for sharing the road together. “Bruce and I have conferred, and we intend for there to be some serious crosstalk between the bands. We will set up the stage in such a way that both bands can be on stage at once,” Fleck revealed.

This shouldn’t be too difficult to do since most of the Flecktones instruments are fairly portable, with one notable exception that Hornsby was quick to address. “Howard Levy, the original Flecktone, will just play on my piano,” he said, raising the intriguing possibility that the two could possibly share the keyboard at the same time. “They don’t have a drum kit since Future Man just plays that — whatever it is — that contraption that triggers samples, so logistically it should make for some pretty painless segues, and back and forth, and in and out.”

While Future Man and his Drumitar are probably familiar to most Flecktones fans, the name Howard Levy may stretch the memory banks a little as he hasn’t been an active member of the band since way back in 1992. Levy appeared on the Flecktones’ first three albums, playing both harmonica and piano, and returned to the fold last year due to sax player Jeff Coffin’s commitment to Dave Matthews Band.

“Howard came back to fill the space that was left when Jeff became a full-time member of Dave Mathews Band. We had been on semi-hiatus for about three years and it felt like it was time to stoke up the Flecktone engines, and Howard seemed like an amazing and elegant solution. And he is!” Fleck said. “It’s a whole different band really. The fourth musician in the band has always kind of defined our sound, since Vic, Futch and I can go a lot of different ways. Howard’s intensity definitely stokes us up, and the harmonica and piano give us a different sonic palette to draw from.”

That different palette is evident on the new Flecktones record, Rocket Science, that was released this spring. While the album sounds very much like the Flecktones, with lightning quick banjo rolls and jaw dropping bass solos, the piano and harmonica add bright, new textures to the music that longtime fans will appreciate. “This album picks up where 1992’s UFO-Tofu left off, rather than where 2006’s The Hidden Land left off,” Fleck said. “It’s not just about having Howard’s instruments and his brains, two of them, it’s about how we’ve all evolved in the years since 1992. Everyone’s ability level has grown exponentially through time.”

While fans of The Flecktones are likely to get just about what they expect from the band in concert, Hornsby had a bit of a warning for people that might come out expecting a greatest hits set. “We did a tour of the deep south recently and most people who were coming to hear us were the lime green pants and golf shirts crowd who were there for a stroll down memory lane and they were shocked and horrified at what they weren’t getting,” he laughed. “They still come to hear ‘Mandolin Rain’ and ‘Every Little Kiss’ and that sort of thing. While I do play two or three or four of those every night, they aren’t done like the record and I hope folks recognize them, because they are the songs.” This is illustrated perfectly on a 2009 live release called Dagle’s Choice, Vol. 1 where Hornsby credits a new version of his iconic “Mandolin Rain” as “Mandolin Blues.” It’s a creative reinterpretation of the song that might frighten some of his radio fans away, while pulling the more adventurous listener into the web he’s been painstakingly weaving since the early ’90s.

Today, Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers is about a free expression of music, they have become, if you will, a jam band. In fact, he referred to the period of about 1990 on in his career as the “post-hits” era. “We haven’t planned setlists since 1990,” he said. “It just happened, we were playing Great Woods near Boston and we were touring with The Cowboy Junkies. Margo Timmins, the great singer for the Junkies, got sick that night and couldn’t play so we came out there and said, ‘The Junkies couldn’t come so if anyone wants a refund, you are welcome to do that, but we are just going to take requests and make this a big loose gig.’ So it started then and it hasn’t ended. We still take requests at our gigs.”

It was around that time — the late ’80s and early ’90s — that Hornsby filled the keyboard role for the Grateful Dead, a time period which many credit giving Hornsby enough of a tutorial in exploratory music that his mainstream pop career was never the same. Hornsby and Tom Constanten (the Dead’s keyboardist from 1968 to 1970) are the only two people who sat in that role for any length of time and are still with us. All other Grateful Dead keys players met with untimely deaths.

Still enamored with the freedom that approach gives, Hornsby and his band have chronicled what it might be like to experience one of those loose, request filled evenings on their most recent album Bride Of The Noisemakers. The album was recorded live at Noisemakers concerts in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and features Hornsby originals lined up next to, and sometimes seamlessly woven together with, traditional, classical, and even Pink Floyd songs. The eclectic record is a window into the minds of a group of brilliant musicians who strive to advance their approach to music with each performance, and their obsessively experimental bandleader.

With Hornsby’s loose approach to performing and The Flecktones’ passion for improvisation, the stage is set for a wild night of musical exploration that will feature some of the very finest musicians on the planet. The possibilities are just about endless and will surely have to be heard to be believed.

 

 

:: Béla Fleck and the Flecktones ::

:: Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers ::

:: Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield ::

:: July 24::

 

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