BÉLA FLECK

World Fusion / Jazz Related Improv/Composition / Post-Fusion Contemporary • United States
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Béla Anton Leoš Fleck (born July 10, 1958) is an American banjo player. Widely acknowledged as one of the world's most innovative and technically proficient banjo players, he is best known for his work with the bands New Grass Revival and Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.

Fleck was born in New York City, New York, and is named after famous Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, Austrian composer Anton Webern, and Czech composer Leoš Janáček. He was drawn to the banjo when he first heard Earl Scruggs play the theme song for the television show Beverly Hillbillies. He received his first banjo at age fifteen from his grandfather (1973). Later, Fleck enrolled in New York City's High School of Music and Art where he studied the French horn. He was a banjo student under Tony Trischka.

Shortly after high school, Fleck traveled to Boston to play with Jack Tottle, Pat Enright, and Mark Schatz
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Tales From the Acoustic PlanetTales From the Acoustic Planet
Warner Bros / Wea 1995
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BÉLA FLECK Discography

BÉLA FLECK albums / top albums

BÉLA FLECK Crossing the Tracks album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Crossing the Tracks
World Fusion 1979
BÉLA FLECK Natural Bridge album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Natural Bridge
World Fusion 1982
BÉLA FLECK Double Time album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Double Time
World Fusion 1984
BÉLA FLECK Deviation album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Deviation
World Fusion 1984
BÉLA FLECK Inroads album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Inroads
World Fusion 1986
BÉLA FLECK Drive album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Drive
World Fusion 1988
BÉLA FLECK Bela Fleck and the Flecktones album cover 3.52 | 3 ratings
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
World Fusion 1990
BÉLA FLECK Flight of the Cosmic Hippo album cover 3.98 | 2 ratings
Flight of the Cosmic Hippo
World Fusion 1991
BÉLA FLECK UFO Tofu album cover 4.14 | 4 ratings
UFO Tofu
World Fusion 1992
BÉLA FLECK Three Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest album cover 3.50 | 1 ratings
Three Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
World Fusion 1993
BÉLA FLECK Tales From the Acoustic Planet album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Tales From the Acoustic Planet
World Fusion 1995
BÉLA FLECK Left of Cool album cover 4.00 | 1 ratings
Left of Cool
World Fusion 1998
BÉLA FLECK The Bluegrass Sessions: Tales from the Acoustic Planet, Volume 2 album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
The Bluegrass Sessions: Tales from the Acoustic Planet, Volume 2
World Fusion 1999
BÉLA FLECK Outbound album cover 4.48 | 2 ratings
Outbound
World Fusion 2000
BÉLA FLECK Perpetual Motion album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Perpetual Motion
World Fusion 2001
BÉLA FLECK Little Worlds album cover 4.25 | 2 ratings
Little Worlds
World Fusion 2003
BÉLA FLECK Ten From Little Worlds album cover 4.00 | 1 ratings
Ten From Little Worlds
World Fusion 2003
BÉLA FLECK Music For Two (with Edgar Meyer) album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Music For Two (with Edgar Meyer)
World Fusion 2004
BÉLA FLECK The Hidden Land album cover 4.00 | 1 ratings
The Hidden Land
World Fusion 2006
BÉLA FLECK Jingle All The Way album cover 3.50 | 1 ratings
Jingle All The Way
World Fusion 2008
BÉLA FLECK Throw Down Your Heart: Tales From the Acoustic Planet, Volume 3: Africa Sessions album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Throw Down Your Heart: Tales From the Acoustic Planet, Volume 3: Africa Sessions
World Fusion 2009
BÉLA FLECK #Rock?et > Sci?ence? album cover 3.89 | 5 ratings
#Rock?et > Sci?ence?
World Fusion 2011
BÉLA FLECK Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn
Jazz Related Improv/Composition 2014
BÉLA FLECK Bela Fleck / Abigail Washburn : Echo In The Valley album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Bela Fleck / Abigail Washburn : Echo In The Valley
Jazz Related Improv/Composition 2017

BÉLA FLECK EPs & splits

BÉLA FLECK Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn : Banjo Banjo album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn : Banjo Banjo
World Fusion 2015

BÉLA FLECK live albums

BÉLA FLECK Live Art album cover 4.00 | 3 ratings
Live Art
World Fusion 1996
BÉLA FLECK Live at the Quick album cover 3.50 | 1 ratings
Live at the Quick
World Fusion 2002
BÉLA FLECK Throw Down Your Heart, Africa Sessions, Vol. 2 album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Throw Down Your Heart, Africa Sessions, Vol. 2
World Fusion 2010
BÉLA FLECK Across the Imaginary Divide album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Across the Imaginary Divide
Post-Fusion Contemporary 2012

BÉLA FLECK demos, promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs)

BÉLA FLECK re-issues & compilations

BÉLA FLECK Daybreak album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Daybreak
World Fusion 1987
BÉLA FLECK Places album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Places
World Fusion 1987
BÉLA FLECK Greatest Hits of the 20th Century album cover 3.50 | 1 ratings
Greatest Hits of the 20th Century
World Fusion 1999

BÉLA FLECK singles (0)

BÉLA FLECK movies (DVD, Blu-Ray or VHS)

BÉLA FLECK Reviews

BÉLA FLECK UFO Tofu

Album · 1992 · World Fusion
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aglasshouse
A very artistic and similarly quite unique band from Tennessee called Bela Fleck and the Flecktones came around in 1990, also releasing their eponymous album in the same year. Their history stems from the band's front-man, Bela Fleck himself. Fleck was well known as a young banjoist who started his musical career in 1976. Fleck won several Grammys in the years after 1995, but his early music is still well known. But where the forked road emerges is the differences between his solo material and his full band act in the 90's. While Fleck usually centered himself around typical and archaic Americana, The Flecktones delved more into the humble use of electronics, psychedelics, and jazz. What turned out was a honestly more colorful and expansive sound produced by a full team of musicians.

Two years after the band had formed, they had come to record their third palindromic album, UFO Tofu, in the summer of 1992. In way of formula very little has changed. However, even in the third time around, producing the same music is not a con in my mind. The music is still extremely creative and bursting with energy. The base may sound very similar, but with such a varied selection of musical instruments and compositions a repeated theme or two is not unwelcome. A differentiation is always welcome, but UFO Tofu's zany banjo from Fleck, as well as Roy Wooten's Drumitar being used with the proficiency of a seasoned guitar player. UFO Tofu is always a good cheap pick up if you find it in a lonely thrift store in the middle of the west country.

BÉLA FLECK #Rock?et > Sci?ence?

Album · 2011 · World Fusion
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
RBlak054
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones returned in 2011 with Rocket Science, one of their best and most consistent albums in several years. Rocket Science contains the signature experimentation, instrumental prowess, and cocktail of styles that have made the Flecktones successful in the past and is a nice addition to the band's discography.

This album features the talents of Bela Fleck on banjo, Victor Wooten on bass, and Future Man on drumitar and other percussion instruments. While sax man Jeff Coffin is no longer part of the lineup due to commitments with the Dave Matthews Band, founding member Howard Levy steps back into the spotlight with his harmonica and piano playing. Despite not being on a Flecktones studio album in almost twenty years, Levy seems to be right at home and his presence appears to have revitalized the band.

Versatility has always been a key feature of the Flecktones' music in the past, and this material is no exception. The music on this album touches on and explores all kinds of genres, from bluegrass to jazz to funk to rock to classical to pretty much anything else you can imagine, making for some very unique and progressive music. While for the most part the Flecktones seamlessly incorporate these styles into their compositions, there are a few moments when it feels forced and perhaps slightly out of place.

The group also enjoys playing around with rhythm and meter on this release. From the odd-metered Grammy-winning track "Life in Eleven" (which is, as the name implies, in 11/8) to the rhythmic shifts in the Hungarian minor piece "Sweet Pomegranates", the Flecktones always keep things interesting.

Virtuoso is not a word I throw around lightly, but when dealing with each of the members of the Flecktones it's an accurate description. Along with being able to keep up with the aforementioned versatility and rhythmic challenges, these guys are fierce improvisers. Special mention goes to bassist Victor Wooten, who never fails to captivate with his great bass work and tone. My only gripe in this department is that Levy's harmonica playing can be quite abrasive at times.

The Flecktones have always struck me as an incredibly creative group, and this album proves that even after twenty years these guys still have it. Rocket Science is not perfect, but it's a great album with solid songwriting that is backed up by world-class musicians. If you have yet to check these guys out and are an open-minded listener, I highly recommend giving them a try... And this album is a good place to start!

(Originally published on progarchives.com)

BÉLA FLECK Greatest Hits of the 20th Century

Boxset / Compilation · 1999 · World Fusion
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Chicapah
I'm not a fan of "Best of" collections (and I dare say that few jazzers are) but, in the case of these free and eclectic-minded bohemian fellows, it's money well-spent, indeed. In fact, instead of being called "Greatest Hits of the 20th Century" it should be called something along the lines of "A small sample of what you've been missing if you haven't checked out Bela Fleck and the Flecktones yet." That includes yours truly, in case you're wondering, because I'd never heard a single cut from their albums in the 90s before I gave this one a spin in the changer. Evidently this group amassed a decent catalogue of unique music in that decade before they jumped from Warner Bros. to Columbia in 2000 (debuting on that label with their excellent "Outbound" CD) and this low-cost medley of tracks is a fine way to catch up in a hurry. I think you'll like what you hear, especially if you are of the jazz/rock/world fusion persuasion. Since I can't pigeon-hole them into any kind of identifiable and, therefore, restrictive category I'll just call what they do "Jazzgrass" and leave it at that.

"The Sinister Minister" is a perfect example of their unconventional attitude because the mixture of musical influences involved is downright staggering. I guess I'd say it's a parcel of Latin-tinged funk combined with bluesy harmonica and bluegrass banjo but that really doesn't describe it fully and that's why they're so hard to label. They're of a different breed altogether. Bassman extraordinaire Victor Lemonte Wooten's solo impresses mightily as he points the song in a new direction at one point, backed by Howard Levy's soothing synthesized velvet curtain that surrounds him. "Stomping Grounds" is next and it's as entertaining as skipping flat rocks across a still pond. Recorded live, it's a fascinating goulash of instruments with Bela on banjo, Future Man (Victor's brudder Roy) on SynthAxe Drumitar, Sam Bush on mandolin, Paul McCandless on soprano sax and Wooten on bass that displays an uncanny level of virtuosity on the part of the individual musicians as well as how tightly they cooperate as an ensemble. When they go "'round the horn" midway through their unbridled joy bursts outward and the audience is swept up in their enthusiasm. Fun stuff. They must be a hoot in concert.

"Flight of the Cosmic Hippo" features a slow, loping, fat, deep (and I mean DEEP) bass line very appropriate for the tune's title. Levy's piano provides a cool, jazzy flavor and his interesting synth work makes parts of this number truly "cosmic." Future Man's one-of-a-kind electronic drums are so tasteful that they're easily overlooked but try not to. He's an artist in the truest sense of the concept and a big part of what makes the band so eccentric. "Shocktime" is a rather frantic, Indian-influenced piece that brings to mind what guitarist John McLaughlin did with Shakti. Victor's bass playing is dazzling and so fast at times that it sounds like he's being assisted on the fretboard by a dozen hyperactive Keebler elves hopped up on speed. In other words, Stanley Clarke's got nothin' on this dude. I'm serious as an aneurism. Bela also gets to shred on his banjo a bit although I'll admit that "shred" and "banjo" don't usually belong in the same sentence. Yet that's what he does.

Wooten's "Sex in a Pan" has a soulful, funk-infested groove as southern as biscuits & skillet gravy that owes a sizeable debt to the specter of James Brown. No one stands out in particular; they just let the infectious melody and the song's natural drive carry the load. "The Yee-Haw Factor" is seven minutes of pleasure. Howard sets up an accordion- like rhythm with his blowing in and out on the diatonic harmonica but don't be misled. There's no backwoods, hillbilly "Deliverance" foolin' around going on here. It's all on the up and up. The tune's tricky tempo and time signature changes come often and without warning, creating a very adventurous journey that's anything but predictable. They even venture briefly into a crazy Brazilian motif before Levy leads you out with a blistering harp ride. These boys are game for anything so they throw in slide banjo (Slide banjo? As they say in hockey, "What the puck?") on "Road House Blues" and it fits as if it's always been there, runs the county and owns most of the land. It's another odd amalgamation of instruments as Bush returns with his mandolin and throws a fiddle into the mix while future Flecktone Jeff Coffin performs more than capably on alto sax. At first glance it appears to be a slice of pure Americana but if you pay attention to the song's imaginative chord progression it becomes apparent that it's not exactly Stephen Foster.

"Vix 9" is amazing. It's a fast-paced jazz composition played in front of a rich, dense synth backdrop and on this cut it's just the basic trio. They're so tuned-in to each other that you'd think they're joined at the hip. Fleck's electric banjo don't sound like no banjo I ever heard, that's for sure, and Future Man's percussion settings are dern near indescribable. "Communication" isn't bad but it does mark the nadir of the proceedings and it's due to the inclusion of some indistinct vocals (Future Man and guest Dave Matthews in a duet). They detract from Coffin's soprano sax that otherwise adds a whole new color to the sound texture of the group. It's pretty obvious why they brought him into the fold as a permanent member down the line.

The last two tracks make for superb listening. "Big Country" is like an aural hike through the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Beautiful and invigorating. The song's memorable melody and the fancy interplay between Jeff's saxes and Victor's silky bass lines is uplifting. Once again the encompassing wall of synthesizers provides a dreamy depth. They close with the relaxing "Sunset Road," a moody stroll down memory lane that shows off Bela's deft technique on the banjo and the band's overall adventurous tendency to embellish even the simplest of ideas. Howard's sly piano ride towards the end is scrumptious and not what you expect to hear.

While I realize that Bela Fleck and the Flecktones may not be everyone's cup o' mud necessarily, they certainly deserve to be considered by the discerning jazz enthusiast and this satisfying conglomeration of tunes is a great way to get to know them. An old ad slogan used to say, "a gift for the man who has everything." Well, this album is custom-made for the jazzer who thinks he's "heard it all." Give it a whirl.

BÉLA FLECK Outbound

Album · 2000 · World Fusion
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Chicapah
I openly confess to being a certified music snob. I can't run a ten-minute errand to the local Wal-Mart for Friskies without taking along a CD because every time I listen to the radio I get utterly disgusted within seconds of angry button-pushing and I end up driving in silence. That being said, there are times when I get tired of meat-and-potatoes jazz fare and I develop hunger pangs for something DIFFERENT. By different I don't necessarily mean weird or atonal but unique, imaginative and fun. If you're also wont to suffer those same cravings then, guys and gals, have I found a savory dish for you!

I knew of Bela Fleck & the Flecktones from seeing them on TV at one point or another and was slightly intrigued by them but never sprang for one of their albums. You gotta admit that a mostly instrumental band consisting of banjo, saxophone, bass and an unorthodox combo of electronic and traditional percussion is, in itself, rather eclectic. Add in the fact that the members' ethnic backgrounds are just as varied as their musical influences and you've got a strange stew of diversity to ladle into your bowl. While oftentimes such odd experimental conglomerations are hit and miss at best, this group consistently climbs to a lofty level of proficiency and should readily appeal to any jazzer owning an adventurous spirit and an unquenchable hankering for new sounds.

Now that I've gotten you all hot and bothered about this band I must warn you that they dubiously open "Outbound" with the weakest cut. After a short, horny piece called "Intro" that has nothing in common with what it's introducing, Bela and the boys present their cover of Aaron Copland's "Hoe Down." This carving from his awesome "Rodeo" has always been one of my favorite classical compositions (By the way, prog monsters ELP did a superb job with it back in '72) and I expected them to nail me to the wall with it. Unfortunately, they don't. It's an uninspired adaptation that dutifully shows off their dexterity and undeniable skills and they do take some jazzy liberties with the score but there's no conviction in their delivery. It's as if the label chiefs "suggested" they put this familiar ditty on the disc (it was their first for Columbia) and they humbly obliged in order to come off as eager to please but their hearts weren't in it. (If you want to hear just how powerful "Hoe Down" can be, grab a rendition by the NY Phil conducted by Lenny Bernstein and you'll know of what I speak. It slays.)

From there on out, though, this is one fine ride to go on starting with a song written for the burg of Funkytown, India, "A Moment So Close." I'm yanking your chain since I have no idea what it's really about but it's still an intriguing Bombay-abuts-Atlanta casserole of seemingly unrelated styles that teases my jazz-hungry taste buds. Drummer Roy Wooten (professionally known as Future Man) is one who sincerely thinks outside the box. The realistic sounds he conjures from his "drumitar" and other assorted tech toys are fascinating yet he never becomes intrusive or pushy. Here he also adds his vocal acumen to that of guests Jon Anderson (of Yes) and Rita Sahai but it's Shawn Colvin's velvety feminine tone that buffs a glossy sheen onto it. Jeff Coffin tosses in a satisfying sax ride, to boot.

Okay, now let's discuss the banjo in the room. Whatever sadistic hillbilly psychopath "Deliverance" nightmare images the instrument might dredge up from the depths of your consciousness (I've always rather liked its happy and percussive aspects) need to be exorcised pronto because Fleck is no chaw-spittin' redneck pickin' on the porch and this ain't the Grand Ole Opry. He plays it as if he invented it. At the outset of "Zona Mona" his banjo is as delicate as a mandolin, leading to a blissfully uplifting saxophone melody that bestows the tune wings. Still, the number retains the ability to surprise and delight with its interesting patterns. Victor Lemonte Wooten (Roy's bro) is stunning on the fretless bass and the tactful incidentals supplied by the Love Sponge String Quartet are as classy as diamond cufflinks. The intriguing "Hall of Mirrors" has a smooth, flowing groove that slips into a brief contemporary jazz motif on occasion and Bela displays a bevy of his unconventional banjoisms for you to marvel over. Cool doesn't do it justice but it comes closest. Guest guitarist Adrian Belew is included in the mix but he's coyly kept in the background.

Next up is "Earth Jam." They festoon this hip, jazz-inflected cut with a perky pace but it's the incredible tightness of the track that gets your motor running. It's uncanny and Victor's bass performance in particular is phenomenal. Bela turns in a blistering synth-assisted banjo ride but it's the busy 9/8 segment towards the end that astounds. "Something She Said" follows and it's a well-placed mood changer. Fleck's deft acoustic guitar lends a classical notion to the early going before it all slides effortlessly into a folksy aura where Belew's subtle guitar bolsters the pleasant melody line. This tune reminds me of the groundbreaking hybrid music created by the trio of YoYo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Mark O'Connor on their resplendent "Appalachian Journey" album. (Another example of "different" music.)

After "Ovombo Summit," a quick-fire exposition of African rhythms, you're treated to the addictive-as-cigarettes apex of the proceedings, "Aimum." This group-written tune, performed in 7/8 Technicolor, is as slick as warm KY jelly yet highly dynamic and the outflow of pure, unadulterated joy that emanates from it is exhilarating. When Future Man harmonizes with Jon and Shawn, singing "If you knew what I've been dreaming of/then you'd know it all comes down to love," you'll find it impossible to harbor a dark thought in your head. I love it and try to live it. "Prelude" is 0:41 of guest artist Andy Norell's steel pans, taking you right into "Lover's Leap," a sauntering, Paris-flavored dealie wherein you'll find another scintillating bass solo from Wooton to drool over. (The man is gifted beyond reason.) Also noteworthy is how the banjo never sounds out of place and how the strings add a mysterious charm. "Outbound" is an adventuresome excursion into jazz/rock fusion land not unlike the one-of-a-kind territories the legendary Weather Report transported us to in their heyday. Victor's bass impresses yet again, Jeff blows craftily through a mean sax break and Future Man's drums kick butt.

"Scratch and Sniff" has an infectious, funky strut that sizzles under Coffin's sly wah-wah saxophone and includes the string quartet, a bassoon and the steel pans. (How's that for a collage!) By now Wooten has proven he's an authentic wizard of the bass, the whole ensemble handles the tricky time signatures like they were playing "Happy Birthday" and the clever arrangement keeps your ears on their toes. The calm intro for "Shuba Yatra" soon turns into a sprightly trot and at this juncture you're so enraptured by these talented men that you're hooked like a rainbow trout and totally on board for anything they try so their inclusion of an Irish jig-sounding air in the middle only makes you grin wider. They just make everything work. "That Old Thing" is a sweet blend of traditional horn timbres and nostalgia that fits in perfectly. The finale, the extremely brief "Reprise" is a charming folk stir that's right in line with the album's overall eccentricity.

This CD may have taken the 2001 Grammy award for best contemporary jazz album (and who would dare argue with its merits?) but stiff and/or predictable it's not. I'm a big fan of artists who bravely combine unrelated instrumentation to give birth to unprecedented musical textures but I've never come across anything more gratifying than what Bela Fleck & the Flecktones have manufactured on "Outbound." They don't sound like anyone or anything else. If not for the unwise tacking on of their stifled version of "Hoe Down" this would be a true masterpiece of world fusion. But considering how the rest of the album enthralls and captivates so thoroughly I have to give it a very high rating. It's good. Real good.

BÉLA FLECK UFO Tofu

Album · 1992 · World Fusion
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Chicapah
I was ready to knock off a star or two while assessing the merits of this album for being no more than a continuation of the trek they were taking through territory they'd already explored on their first couple of recordings but then I noticed this in the notes: "This music was performed live in the studio." Well, kiss my ring and call me the pope! That information made me listen with a different ear to what BFF tried to accomplish on "UFO TOFU" because laying down stuff so involved so tightly and without overdubs is a feat that few artists will even attempt, much less pull off with such aplomb. Having spent a slew of hours in the studio myself over the years I can avow from experience that it ain't exactly tiddlywinks to create flawless tracks and that it takes musicianship above and beyond the norm to do such a thing. But to do it all at once as a group? Fuggitaboudit. I guess they were trying to challenge themselves by creating something they could reproduce note-for-note on stage. Well, as they say, it ain't bragging if you can do it.

The opener, "The West County," fades you into a busy commotion that eventually morphs to a jazzy, Latin-tinged fandango. Every band member impresses as they always do but Howard Levy's piano work is downright liberating. Bassist Victor Lemonte Wooten's James Brown-inspired "Sex in a Pan" is next and it's a funky romp that still retains the unmistakable Flecktone sensitivities that sets them so far apart from the herd. There's a lot of spirited back and forth riffing between Bela Fleck's banjo and Howard's harmonica but it's Victor's silky bass lines that steal this particular show. "Nemo's Dream" follows and it's one of the best songs on the CD. After a proggy synth intro Bela's slightly dissonant chords give the tune an air of tense mystery and the tricky 7/8 time signature keeps you on your toes. Levy's piano ride is thrilling and further convinces me that his keyboard prowess is vastly underrated. The number comes full circle and they go out the same way they came in.

"Bonnie & Slyde" is a smooth, pleasant stroll through the countryside. Contemporary without being patronizing, it would be right at home as the theme for a show about trout fishing. I know, that sounds bad, but it's really not a distraction at all. Another gem, "Scuttlebutt," is an ingenious "get the funk outa my face" kinda deal that contains a strong dose of clever complexity tossed in for good measure. Howard shines on the keyboard again and Fleck's banjo doesn't sound like any banjo I ever heard plunking at the Grand Old Opry if you know what I'm getting at. The group is consistently tighter than a chubby stripper's G-string and I offer this cut as proof positive. The album's namesake is a speedy-paced, jazzy doo-dad wherein everybody bedazzles both individually and collectively. In the notes they claim it to be a musical palindrome as implied by the title but I didn't play it backwards to check so I'll take their word for it. (Not really. I remain skeptical.) Whatever it was that their muse whispered to them worked, though.

"Magic Fingers" sports a bluesy feel and Wooten romps & rolls splendidly on his solo. Levy's harp is sharp as a razor and Bela is uncannily graceful on his banjo, an instrument not known for its grace. On "True North" Howard's gleeful pennywhistle lends an Irish aura to the intro before it quickly evolves into an engaging waltz with an impish attitude. Levy's exquisite piano ride is like golden sunshine reflecting off of rippling water. "Life Without Elvis" is next and it's another highlight of the proceedings. It's an eccentric little ditty that befits their boast of spotting the King of Rock & Roll "in perfect health on the bullet train." There's a nifty section where drummer (or whatever he calls himself) Future Man and Fleck's banjo spar brilliantly and the song is filled with odd moments of cool weirdness.

Howard contributes his laid back "Seresta" at this juncture and it's another swaying waltz that features his sprightly harmonica, Victor's impressive bass chording technique and Levy's somewhat cocktail lounge-ish pianoisms. The tune's not totally out of character for them but it does drag the momentum a bit. "The Yee-haw Factor" definitely has hillbilly overtones but Wooten's sleek bass lines keep it out of the barnyard. They also throw in numerous twists and turns to keep it from becoming predictable hokum or seriously compromising their eclectic mannerisms while still giving a respectable nod to modern bluegrass trends. The frantic fadeout is commendable. They end the album on a very high note with "After the Storm." Bela's banjo cruises over the kind of hypnotic, dense synthesizer settings that I can't resist overindulging in and the tune's upward-climbing progression is reassuring and hopeful without ever veering into crass sentimentality. It may be simple but there's nothing simple-minded about what these guys concoct together here.

I will concede that there is an unavoidable sameness about Bela Fleck & The Flecktones' music that becomes noticeable and numbing after a while but I can say the same thing about Chopin's piano etudes. I'm not comparing BFF to that great genius but you get the point, I'm sure. At the risk of becoming a broken record or an annoying parrot with dementia I'll reiterate that, despite what your instincts may tell you about a group that utilizes such unlikely instrumentation, these boys do make some very invigorating noises and deserve to be investigated by the sort of inquiring minds that tend to frequent this website. They will turn your head, I guarantee it.

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