This year, Béla Fleck & The Flecktones are reuniting for a tour with harmonica and keyboard virtuoso Howard Levy, a former band member for their first several albums in the early 90′s. In honor of the gathering of so much talent, I’ve dug out and updated a transcription I did years ago of a gem from the Flecktones first (self-titled) album: “Half Moon Bay“.
Back in the early 90′s, the group featuring more striking jazz edge, both in sound and composition– Béla had set out to prove that the banjo was a legitimate instrument to use in modern jazz. Years later, when he had undeniably achieved this, the group evolved to take on the sounds of numerous different musical cultures, but on their debut record, many of the tunes fit into standard 32 bar forms with melodies that could occasionally be called be-bop (“Hurricane Camille”).
“Half Moon Bay” is one of those– an AABA form with simple be-bop harmony that one might find in a Charlie Parker tune. However, the composition makes brilliant use of the capabilities of the banjo, both of its open strings and of the 3-finger picking style native to bluegrass music. Fleck weaves together counterpoint reminiscent of J.S. Bach’s unaccompanied violin and cello works (some of which he would later reinterpret for banjo on his 2001 record Perpetual Motion).
I’ve included 2 charts for this transcription: the banjo part, in both notation and tablature, and a lead sheet, with notation of both the banjo part and Howard Levy’s harmonica part. Levy plays diatonic, not chromatic harp, and yet he has managed to develop a technique in which he bends the harmonica reeds in order to seamlessly reach chromatic notes. This incredible feat is something like playing a piano with only white keys, but “bending” the piano strings to reach the “black” notes. Listening to him improvise fluidly on “Half Moon Bay” and the rest of the album is mind boggling.
So here’s to the reuniting original lineup of The Flecktones– and the strides that they’ve all continued to make in music in the twenty years since the release of that album.
You can stream Half Moon Bay here, and download transcriptions at the link above.
Note: The download link below will take you to a check-out dialogue but will NOT ask for any credit card information– it’s entirely free!