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Bela Fleck and The Flecktones - Left of Cool CD (album) cover

LEFT OF COOL

Bela Fleck and The Flecktones

Jazz Rock/Fusion


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Negoba
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars Bluegrass - Jazz - Funk - Pop Fusion (Maybe it's a little too much)

Bela Fleck is the most musically virtuosic banjo player who ever lived. There aren't many instruments that have a master so head and shoulders above, but banjo does. And it's not as if there aren't plenty of banjo shredders out there. In fact, bluegrass players in general have better technique than rock players, and the good ones possess better understanding of melody, more accurate tone, and simply faster speed than even metal guitarists. But Bela took the instrument to more new places than any 10 masters, and was and is able to stand side by side with the best of the best in multiple genres.

I saw a supergroup trio of Bela Fleck, monster bassist Edgar Meyer (also among the best ever on his instrument), and mandolin/guitar/jack of all trades Mike Marshall at the acoustically superb Sheldon theater in the late 90's. The disc from that concert is amazing, but is still extremely obscure. Bela was also working with the Flecktones at the time and this was the album from that period, which I picked up in my usual excitement for a newfound favorite.

Contrary to the band name, this version of the Flecktones is probably led more by the Wooten brothers than Bela. Victor is a maestro of the electric bass, a true legend among players of the instrument. His sound is jazzy, funky, and Caribbean influenced, which creates a very interesting and somewhat strange combination with the banjo. Unfortunately, the banjo takes a back seat during many of the songs on this album. There are (not especially memorable) vocal parts on several of the songs, healthy helpings of Kenny G style smooth jazz sax, and pretty average drumming. These elements come from members Roy Wooten and Jeff Coffin, and frankly, when they are up front, the music is not too compelling. When Bela and Victor lead the way on "Shanti," "The Big Blink," and "Oddity" the sound has a more complex, nuanced feel. This is the Bela Fleck I love to listen to, the aspect of the band that prog fans might enjoy.

I was pretty underwhelmed when I first got this album, as the early tracks offer too much soft jazz. After numerous tries to come back to the music, I've found some nice moments scattered in here, but it's not a disc I pull out often. Though Bela Fleck and Victor Wooten are masters of their instruments, this isn't the place to dive in to their music. Prog fans, even those deep into fusion, will probably not have the patience to do the sifting this album requires. Better choices recorded as Bela Fleck solo albums include Tales from the Acoustic Planet or the classical Perpetual Motion.

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Send comments to Negoba (BETA) | Report this review (#212622)
Posted Monday, April 27, 2009 | Review Permalink
snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Progressive bluegrass - you can hear it here. It means , that in fact it is a mix of Wootens' funky pulsation plus Fleck's bluegrass or sometimes (as it happens on "Throwdown at the Hoedown") even country banjo.

Music fluctuates between country with funk elements and exotic kind of fusion ( banjo leaded, again). You can feel the presence of Wooten brothers rhythm section everywhere, quite offen it gives very funky feeling. But all in all, it sounds as high quality village band in your village Autumn Harvest Eve. And pop atmosphere is always around you.

I don't think it is bad album, some moments are even interesting, but I think it is almost unacceptable for most of prog fans. Just different bird.

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Send comments to snobb (BETA) | Report this review (#235470)
Posted Friday, August 28, 2009 | Review Permalink

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