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)