Folk review: An Evening with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones - Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

“CELEBRATIOUS” was the word coined by percussionist extraordinaire Roy “Futureman” Wooten for his delight at being in Scotland, and it sums up the exuberant concert with which his band the Flecktones, led by banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck, opened Glasgow’s annual Celtic Connections extravaganza.

This was about as far from Duelling Banjos as you can get, as Fleck and his Grammy award-winning bluegrass-jazz fusion outfit appeared in their reassembled form with harmonica player, pianist and co-founder Howard Levy. This was bluegrass seriously mutated into a jazz-funk groove by a wonderfully eccentric yet musically commanding quartet. Victor Wooten’s agile basswork underpinned some joyful sparring between Levy’s squalling harmonica or cascading piano, the Fleck banjo all the while whirring and stabbing staccato runs.

The arrival of bluegrass ace Casey Dreissen prompted some sizzling duetting between his fiddle and Levy’s harmonica. Further guests joined the second half which, while not quite so cohesive as the formidable opening set, scored in terms of transatlantic bonding, and opened with the unadorned human voice and some gospelly a capella harmonies from Gaeldom’s Kathleen MacInnes, American singer-songwriter and banjoist Abigail Washburn and Ireland’s Karan Casey.

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There was solo singing from all three and they also delivered an intense trio of anti-war songs which ended in plangent harmonies in English and Gaelic. By this time the lineup had been further reinforced by flautist and piper Michael McGoldrick, guitarist John Doyle and Scots bodran player Martin O’Neill and the whole company launched into a set of Irish tunes which eventually went west, one might say, into a hoedown, underpinning this festival’s well-established transatlantic connections.

Rating: ****

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