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Funky Flecktones

A cosmic funk-jazz sound featuring the banjo, the "synth-axe drumitar" and an assortment of other instrumental oddities is the specialty of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.

Tucsonans will have a chance to catch Béla Fleck and the Flecktones at 8 p.m. next Thursday, June 22, at the newly restored Fox Theatre, 17 W. Congress St. , as they make their way across the country for their "Acoustic Planet" spring tour, which kicked off March 15 in Lexington, Ky., and will run through September. The tour is somewhat of a reunion for the band after taking a one-year hiatus to pursue solo projects.

For those who have never heard Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, the music is a truly unique experience, far different from anything else out there. Check out their adaptation of J.S. Bach's classical "Bach Fugue" into a fun, bouncy, Fleck-ified "Fugue From Prelude & Fugue No. 20 in A Minor, BVW 889." It's the first track on their new album, The Hidden Land (Sony). By the fifth track, "Kaleidoscope," the band has moved to a jam session with heavy bluegrass influences.

Don Gest, who has been a promoter for the band since its inception in 1990, says that the closest genre for the group is jazz, but even then, it's not really jazz in the classical sense of the word, since the banjo is one of the primary instruments.

"They have heavy bluegrass and folk influences," Gest says. "Their music is somewhat unclassifiable, but it's closer to jazz than anything else."

The band, composed of Béla Fleck on acoustic and electric banjo, Victor Lemonte Wooten on bass guitar, Roy "Future Man" Wooten on percussive instruments including the "synth-axe drumitar" and Jeff Coffin on wind instruments (including the saxophone and flute) has recorded 12 albums as a group, and each member has recorded at least one solo album.

Fleck, a New York native, has been playing banjo since he was 15 years old and was in the bluegrass band New Grass Revival before forming the Flecktones. He has been nominated for a Grammy Award 20 times in 10 different categories, and has won eight times. During the Flecktones' one-year hiatus, Fleck spent time in Africa recording an album with African artists.

Victor Lemonte Wooten frequently performs live shows with Dave Matthews Band, and has been awarded two Grammys for his solo projects. He began playing bass guitar on stage at age 5 with his brothers in the Wooten Brothers Band. He has been awarded two Nashville Music Awards for Bassist of the Year, and is a three-time winner of Bass Player Magazine's Bass Player of the Year Award.

Coffin has also performed with Dave Matthews Band, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen and others. During the hiatus, Coffin released his latest album, Bloom, which he put out with his self-described "mu'tet"--a collaboration of many different types of musicians.

Roy "Future Man" Wooten, brother of Victor Wooten and also a former member of the Wooten Brothers Band, is described as both an inventor and a musician. Also known as "RoyEl," Roy Wooten has invented two different percussion instruments, which he uses extensively in Béla Fleck and the Flecktones music. The first, a "synth-axe Drumitar," is described as a guitar-shaped instrument that can replicate any sound a traditional drum set makes though just the touch of a finger or two. Roy Wooten's other musical invention, the "RoyEl," is an instrument with a keyboard designed after the periodic table of elements that mimics sounds in nature.

The band's first Tucson show was in 1990, at the Temple of Music and Art, and they've been back on almost every tour since, playing at least eight or nine shows in Tucson over the years, Gest says.

Tickets will most likely be available at the Fox Theatre Box Office on the evening of the show. Tickets can also be purchased by phone through Ticketmaster by calling 321-1000. Tickets will be $22 for back-of-the-house and balcony seats, $30 for front-of-the-house or $92 for a loveseat for two in the first four rows of the balcony.

Gest says even though it will be the band's first time at the Fox, the sound quality is going to be excellent, judging from previous shows.

"They'll do an acoustic set, without any electric instruments, as a part of the show," says Gest. "Béla will be playing an acoustic banjo, and the band will be playing different wind and percussion instruments."

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones almost always include an acoustic set in their shows, and the whole concert generally lasts about two hours, Gest says. No opening band is scheduled, though it is possible that a local band will be performing in the lounge of the theater before the show.

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