Does banjoist Bela Fleck live here now?
A frequent flier here with his Flecktones — including opening for the Dave Matthews Band at the Pepsi Arena (now the Times Union Center) — Fleck has returned often between Flecktones tours and during their hiatus, most recently with wife Abigail Washburn in a cozy banjos duo (The Egg, Saint Rose’s Massry Center).
He also led a thrilling all-star African crew at RPI’s EMPAC and co-starred in all bluegrass and jazz bands all over the place.
The other Flecktones haven’t just been kicking back on the porch, either; with bassist Victor Wooten making maybe the biggest noise in fiery funk showcases at The Egg with his brothers and others.
On Wednesday, Fleck brings the original Flecktones back to The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany). Formed to play the Lonesome Pine Special in 1988, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones are as durable as they are powerful, fusing bluegrass, funk and bebop into bold jams of individual virtuosity and combustible chemistry.
All masters, they improvise together like mad: Fleck firing up the frets on conventional or electric banjos or guitar, Howard Levy chiming in with harmonica or keyboards and Wooten brothers Victor, bass; and Roy “Futureman,” drums or electro-percussion with his junky-looking, versatile Synthaxe Drumitar. From 1988 to 1992, they ruled the road, playing more than 200 shows a year and recording exciting, critical- and fan-fave albums.
Levy left in 1992 to spend more time with his young family in Chicago and make Balkan-jazz albums. The three Flecktones rocked on, touring almost nonstop and winning a Best Pop Instrumental Performance Grammy for “Sinister Minister” on “Live Art,” their first live album and fifth overall. Saxophonist Jeff Coffin re-completed the Flecktones as a quartet. Joining in 1997, he often blew several saxes at once and raised the adrenaline factor until he left in 2008 to replace the late LeRoi Moore in the Dave Matthews Band and lead his own Mu’tet on the side.
A trio once again, the Flecktones invited guests in for several albums: “Outbound” won the Best Contemporary Jazz Album Grammy in 2001; but they recorded “The Hidden Land,” their 11th, as a three-piece.
Then, Howard Levy brought his keyboard and harmonica skills (he’s widely hailed for his fully chromatic style on the standard 10-hole diatonic harmonica) back to the Flecktones. They recorded “Rocket Science” with him and toured in 2011 and 2012 before going on hiatus. Now, they’re back, flying in their original formation and playing The Egg on Wednesday. 7:30 p.m. $49.50, $44.50. 473-1845 www.theegg.org
Skynyrd & Frampton
The only time “Free Bird!” shout-outs make sense is Friday when southern-rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd play the Times Union Center (41 S. Pearl St., Albany); fellow 1970s power-radio rocker Peter Frampton opens. Skynyrd is Johnny Van Zandt, vocals; Gary Rossington, Ricky Medlocke and Mark Matejka, guitars; Johnny Colt, bass; Michael Cartellone, drums; Peter Keys, keyboards; and singers Dale Krantz Rossington and Carol Chase. Frampton played solo acoustic at The Egg solo last fall but returns Friday with Adam Lester, guitar; Rob Arthur, keyboards and guitar; Paul Peterson, bass; and Dan Wojciechowski, drums.
A mismatch? Try this: Michael Eck says, “In September 1981, The Ramones opened for Frampton at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. At the show, someone in the audience — perhaps a Ramones fan, god bless ‘em — threw a pillowcase filled with snakes onstage during Frampton’s set.” Backstage, Joey Ramone shrugged off the odd-couple billing. He told me Frampton “was my hero in the last war.” 7 p.m. $72.50, $57.50. www.timesunioncenter-albany.com
All about that bass
Fans of Victor Wooten’s ferocious bass playing with the Flecktones should check out Stu Hamm playing solo on Friday at the Van Dyck (237 Union St., Schenectady). A favorite of guitarists – Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Alan Holdsworth, Frank Gambale and others – Hamm is the only bassist to win Guitar Player magazine’s readers’ poll as both best rock bassist and best jazz bassist in the same year. 7:30 p.m. $15 advance, $19 door. 348-7999 www.vandycklounge.com
Reach Gazette Columnist Michael Hochanadel at email@example.com