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Bela Fleck and The Flecktones - Flight of the Cosmic Hippo CD (album) cover


Bela Fleck and The Flecktones


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.67 | 19 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars Unique Banjo Jazz Fusion, Good but Uneven

I am a big fan of Bela Fleck, and I consider him to be one of the musical geniuses of his generation. He has taken his instrument places it has never been taken and his technique is matched only by his effortless understanding of any kind of music he encounters. His soft manner remains whether he's ripping bluegrass, negotiating strange jazz progressions, or re-interpreting complex classical pieces. His most famous work is with the Flecktones, a modern jazz fusion combo with brothers Victor Wooten (a monster talent on the bass) and Roy Wooten (who plays a MIDI percussion trigger instrument called the Drumitar). Additional players have phased in and out, and on this early album, Howard Levy provides various keys and harmonica sounds.

The Flecktones' second album, Flight of the Cosmic Hippo, is a strange bird. While the overall sound is consistent with soft jazz of the time, the complexity of some of the pieces is astounding. The first two songs, "Blu-bop" and "Flying Saucer Dudes" contain complex time signatures, shifting timbral feels, ultra fast riffs, and the unique sound that comes of adding slap-funk bass with a processed banjo. The dated production is a little distracting, with huge late 80's reverbs, high pitched bass, and most annoyingly, the triggered drum samples. While the band grooves deftly, but there's a transistor-y feel to the sound that is more an indictment on the era than the musicians.

Alongside the funky fusion are some muzak-y moments that are throwaways. The cover of "The Star Spangled Banner" is pretty forgettable, but the rendition of "Michele" starts cool and slippery and evolves into a very nice improvisational jam. Victor Wooten is a true bass- master and his work ranges from fast and furious to a swaggering swing that fuels the title tune. Fleck's playing is fun a spirited, though as usual you get the sense that he's never truly challenged even when he's playing at a hundred miles an hour.

This album is a definite step up from the later album I reviewed (Left of Cool) and I'd place it in the 3+ range. It's not going to appeal to even most prog fans, but it's very good music. Fans of modern jazz will almost certainly enjoy it. The music is innovative in instrumentation, complex in composition, and virtuosic in performance. So it belongs here. Good but non-essential.

Negoba | 3/5 |


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