Sunday, November 22, 2015

Béla Fleck & The Flecktones - 1990 "Bela Fleck and the Flecktones"

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones is a primarily instrumental group from the United States, that draws equally on bluegrass, fusion and post-bop, sometimes dubbed "blu-bop". The band formed in 1988, to perform on the PBS series Lonesome Pine Specials. The Flecktones consist of Béla Fleck on acoustic and electric banjo, Victor Wooten on bass, his brother, Roy Wooten (a.k.a. Future Man) on Drumitar, Howard Levy on harmonica and keyboard and Jeff Coffin on saxophone The Flecktones have toured extensively since then, often playing over 200 concerts per year. Each of the current members of the quartet has released at least one solo album. The band's name is a play on the name of the 1960s rock band Dick Dale and the Del-Tones.

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones is the first album by the band of the same name, released in 1990. It reached number 17 on the Billboard Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart. At the Grammy Awards of 1997, a live version of "The Sinister Minister", a track from the album, won the Best Pop Instrumental Performance award.

After disbanding New Grass Revival, Bela Fleck began re-creating the role of the banjo in the same way Charlie Parker redefined the role of the saxophone. But Fleck may be the least-innovative member of this quartet: Howard Levy gets chromatics from his blues harp, Victor Wooten picks banjo rolls on his bass, and Roy "Future Man" Wooten plays a Frankenstein-monster drum-machine/guitar synthesizer. For all the flash, there's little pretense; the group's astonishing musicianship keeps an "aw-shucks" accessibility that lets everybody follow the melody while they marvel.

When bluegrass banjo whiz Bela Fleck formed the Flecktones in 1990 with jazz pianist Howard Levy, funk bassist Victor Wooten, and electronic-drummer Roy Wooten, it seemed like just one more of those new-acoustic music bands that appear and disappear in Nashville with depressing regularity. There was something special about this quartet, though, for it used its peculiar instrumentation not as an end in itself but as a means to three albums of startling melodicism, improvisation, and feeling. At the end of 1992, Levy amicably departed to spend more time with his family and his own music. Rather than hire a new fourth member, Fleck and the Wootens have tried to compensate for his absence by an increased reliance on synthesizer sounds that they can trigger from their instruments and floor pedals. This has led to less emphasis on melody, harmony, and feeling and an increased emphasis on rhythm and showy virtuosity.

It always amazes me when I spy albums by the Flecktones tucked away in the new age or "miscellaneous" sections of record stores. Fleck has surely bent the boundaries of genre with his mind-altering banjo virtuosity, but the core of this music is JAZZ, even for a purist like myself. This album, one of only three with harmonica/keyboards stud Howard Levy, is a particular treat in the ensemble -- Future Man will make a believer of those who pooh-pooh digital percussion as "canned" or "fake." Most important here are the tunes -- "Sinister Minister" may well be the "Perdido" or "Caravan" of the next century. A marvelous record to be in every futuristic jazzophile's collection!

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones self titled album is easily one of their best and most impreesive albums. The musicianship on the album is incredible, especially with Fleck's incredible picking and Wooten's impossible bass lines. Many of the songs are great, with no bad ones. Some of the highlights are Hurricane Camille, Sunset Road, Reflections of Lucy and the song that really stands out above the rest, Sinister Minister. Sinister is not only very funky, it is also an extremely hard to play songs, especially Wooten's bass solo in the middle.
This album is great for musicians and fans of bluegrass and jazz. Overall a very impressive album that deserves recognition.

Track listing:

All songs by Béla Fleck unless otherwise noted.

    "Sea Brazil" – 3:43
    "Frontiers" – 6:08
    "Hurricane Camille" – 2:38
    "Half Moon Bay" – 5:09
    "The Sinister Minister" – 4:38
    "Sunset Road" – 5:04
    "Flipper" – 4:21
    "Mars Needs Women: Space is a Lonely Place" – 5:01
    "Mars Needs Women: They're Here" – 3:30
    "Reflections of Lucy" (B. Fleck/John Lennon/Paul McCartney) – 3:38
    "Tell It to the Gov'nor" – 4:06


The only single from this album was "The Sinister Minister". The music video received heavy airplay on MTV and VH1 back in the early 90s. The video was so popular, it was featured on an episode of VH1's Pop-Up Video and won a Grammy in 1997, despite it being a 1990 song.


    Béla Fleck – banjo
    Howard Levy – diatonic harmonica (tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 8-11), synth (tracks 5, 11), synthesizers (tracks 5, 6, 8, 10), piano (tracks 1-4, 6, 7, 10), Jew's harp (track 2), güiro (track 5)
    Roy "Future Man" Wooten – Synth-Axe Drumitar
    Victor Wooten – bass
    Camille Harrison (uncredited) - vocals (track 6)

Some websites claim additional musicians participated on this album, but these are not supported by the liner notes. However, in the notes from the band's next album, Flight of the Cosmic Hippo, apologies and credit for vocal work is given to Camille Harrison for the track "Sunset Road".