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Bela Fleck and The Flecktones

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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Bela Fleck and The Flecktones Flight of the Cosmic Hippo album cover
3.66 | 21 ratings | 6 reviews | 10% 5 stars

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Studio Album, released in 1991

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Blu-Bop (4:22)
2. Flying Saucer Dudes (4:51)
3. Turtle Rock (4:13)
4. Flight of the Cosmic Hippo (4:28)
5. The Star Spangled Banner (2:35)
6. Star of the Country Down (4:22)
7. Jekyll and Hyde (and Ted and Alice) (7:05)
8. Michelle (5:10)
9. Hole in the Wall (4:39)
10. Flight of the Cosmic Hippo (reprise) (2:14)

Total Time 43:59

Line-up / Musicians

- Howard Levy / diatonic harmonica, piano, synthesizers, harp in a cup, harp through micro synth, double ocarina, Hammond B-3 organ
- Victor Lemonte Wooten / 4 string, 5 string fretless and 6 string electric basses
- Béla Fleck / banjo, electric banjo
- Roy Future Man Wooten / Syntax Drumitar

Releases information

Warner Bros. Records, Inc.

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BELA FLECK AND THE FLECKTONES Flight of the Cosmic Hippo ratings distribution

(21 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(10%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(57%)
Good, but non-essential (33%)
Collectors/fans only (0%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

BELA FLECK AND THE FLECKTONES Flight of the Cosmic Hippo reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by JLocke
3 stars Since no one else here seems to be aware of this band's presence on the site yet, I suppose I should start reviewing other releases by Mr. Fleck to continue raising the awareness.

Last time I reviewed what is thus far the most enjoyable Flecktones record I have ever heard, ''Outbound'', and if you haven't heard it yet, I suggest you go searching for it right away, as it is a true Jazz-Rock gem! This time, however, I am going to review the band's second studio release (Which happens to be the first album of theirs I ever layed ear on), ''Flight of the Cosmic Hippo''.

For starters, I should explain how I came across this band and ultimately, this album. Once upon a time, there was a troubled teen who was home-schooled his whole life untuil High-School, at which point he decided to drop out and take his GED as an alternate way of getting through his education. That kid happened tp have the same last name as Bela Fleck, so he was always asked by people around him if he was either related to, or at least knew about him. I did in fact not know who Bela Fleck was, but all of the questioning eventually led me to look him up and find out what he was all about.

Thanks to misinformation, I was led to believe that Bela Fleck was an old codger who played Bluegrass music out in the sticks. I had no idea how brilliant he truly was until one of my teachers at my GED study hall lent me a CD of her son's. That CD was ''Flight of the Cosmic Hippo''. My initial reaction was in fact not immediate praise and admiration; it took time for me to 'get' the music. Of course now I'm a huge Bela fan, and never intend to look back.

As I've said before, Howard Levy-era Flecktones isn't by any means my favorite incarnation, but his piano stylings are nice for what they are. He's not the virtuoso that the other band members are, but maybe he doesn't have to be; after all, his subtle (if not sometimes redundant) harmonica and keyboard add a nice Jazzy flavor to the otherwise straightforward pallet of sound painting present in early Flecktones music.

The band had yet to find themselves, it seems, and as a result, the compositions here very often feel unsure of themselves, remaining just a notch below the greatness they could have been. It's no doubt these guys were always talented and skilled, but their full potential would not be realized (in my opinion, anyway) until Jeff Coffin would replace Levy with his amazing Saxophone sounscapes.

What we here on 'Flight' is a slow-paced, sometimes repetetive but overall enjoyable ride that is much more experimental Bluegrass than Jazz-Rock/Fusion (the latter genre would become much more prominant in later years for the quartet). The most enjoyable tracks for me were ''Blu-Pop'', ''The Star Spangled Banner'', the very cleverly-named ''Jekyll and Hyde (and Ted and Alice)'' and ''Michelle''. But even with those solid tracks present on the record, nothing particularly jumped out at me or made me want to listen to it again and again (Something Coffin-era Flecktones does for me all the time).

I guess what I'm trying to say is . . . this album is good; certainly better than most of the pop crap out there at the time of the album's debut, but it isn't really for people of my taste. It has already begun to grow on me, and I have no doubt that I will warm up to the material sooner or later, but because it never spoke to me directly, I can;t give it any more than an average score, or else I would be lying to myself.

So ''Flight of the Csomic Hippo'' for me is worth listening to, but nowhere near the calibur later Flecktones albums would become.

3.5 out of 5 Stars. Semi-Happy listening.

Review by Negoba
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.

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars This is the second album by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Just as the cover art on this disk is an expansion of the first album, the music here is an expension of the first album as well. Where the first album introduced us to this band's form of bluegrass fusion, but stayed in a mostly soft jazz realm, this album explores more adventurous forms of fusion.

Right from the start, where we hear Fleck's electric banjo played through guitar effects, the sound is much more like Return To Forever than easy listening, partly because the staccato sound of the banjo tends to sound not unlike Al DiMeola's signature sound.

The Wooten brothers continue to amaze on this release, with Victor's great bass chops and Roy's unbelievable Synthaxe drums. Howard Levy is the only weak spot in the band. His harmonica style still brings to mind elevator music. But at least the majority of the compositions transcend his playing.

Review by Chicapah
4 stars So much for sophomore jinxes! That superstitious myth doesn't apply here. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones' follow-up to their distinguished debut album is even better. The overall feel I glean from it is one of bolstered confidence and tenacity most likely budding from their growing flock of fans that found their cool oddness irresistible. Their unlikely combination of instruments and ethnicity made them stand out from the madding crowd and attracted aficionados of both jazz and high-end bluegrass who couldn't help but be impressed by their undeniable virtuosity. Since they couldn't be neatly pigeon-holed into either category they fell into that scary, foggy classification known simply as "progressive" whether they wanted to be members of that quirky fraternity or not. I deem them to be a good fit and my hope is that more of my fellow proggers will drop any discrimination or unfair judgment they might be tempted to assign to a band that features both banjo and harmonica and give these guys a chance. It will be time and currency well-spent.

They don't waste a second in grabbing your attention as they open the album with a fast- paced, spirited, jazzy deal in 5/4 that smokes like a coal-fed locomotive. Howard Levy's keyboard work is stellar in the early going and then they level out onto a calmer plateau before evolving into a more traditional "walking" motif for Bela Fleck's banjo ride. When Howard and Bela trade hot licks toward the end you'll know these boys ain't fooling around. "Flying Saucer Dudes" offers an example of the voodoo they do so well in that they seamlessly veer off from a straight beat pattern into a section peppered with intriguing kicks and accents that boggle the mind. Levy's harp-through-a-micro-synth is a neat trick and goes a long way toward making this cut one of their proggiest. The hard-driving "Turtle Rock" is next and they, of course, inject their own slant into the "rawk" genre with Fleck's electric banjo providing the requisite steely balls. Their clever arrangement takes the listener through some very interesting and unexpected twists and turns along the way and it also incorporates one of Future Man's heaviest electronic drum sounds.

Victor Lemonte Wooten's fretless bass work creates the perfect, bloated aural image for "Flight of the Cosmic Hippo" and it's something you need to hear at least once in your lifetime. (The slippery, old-school melody reminds me of "Put the blame on Mame" but maybe that's just my off-kilter mind at play.) The tune's delightfully heavy, trippy vibe gives the track plenty of weight. Their take on "The Star Spangled Banner" follows and I have to say that it's one of the weirdest renditions of a national anthem I've ever heard. I didn't like it at first but it's eccentricity made it grow on me. All the numbers up to this point are engaging to some degree but "Star of the County Down," a silky-smooth folksy thing in 6/4 that's pleasant aplenty, fails to take me anywhere special. Bela does toss in some sweet runs on his banjo during the fadeout, though.

"Jekyll and Hyde (and Ted and Alice)" is a return to extravagance. Fleck begins this 7- minute piece with a haunting solo, then the other three ease into the tune's 7/8 structure with nary a bump. Suddenly the tempo quickens and the song's personality changes into something much more complex and involved and the result is an exhilarating, fun journey. On "Michelle" they try to put a new face on the classic Beatles' standard but it still comes off a little stale, nonetheless. While I admire the tune's catchy melody it's never been one of my favorite Lennon/McCartney offerings and perhaps that's from it being covered for 45 years by everyone except the Sex Pistols. The jazzed-up midsection adds some pizzazz thanks in no small part to Howard's deft piano chording going on underneath first Bela and then Victor's leads. The latter's delicate fingering is exquisite in particular but it still can't save this cut from being sub-par.

"Hole in the Wall" serves up a big helping of this group's infectious strangeness that draws me right into their mad sphere of existence. It coasts right along at a decent clip but when Wooten's bass and Levy's piano take over it ascends to the mountain tops just before Fleck jettisons away from the mother ship and floats like a cloud on his own. The band eventually joins him aloft and the last minute or so is thrillingly intense. "Flight of the Cosmic Hippo (reprise)" is exactly what you'd think it'd be but it's sort of a dirty saloon take and Howard's sexy, sleazy piano provides the provocative personality necessary to make it work.

I haven't said much about the Hippopotamus in the room which is the near-mystical presence of Roy "Future Man" Wooten and his Synthaxe Drumitar contraption but that's because I can't explain what he does. I can only reiterate from other reviews that his percussive contributions are without exception exactly what the tune needs and nothing more. He's a bit of an enigma but they wouldn't be the same without him so I just accept his art on his terms and don't ask questions. In many ways this album is an extension of the one that preceded it but they felt brave enough to take some risks with their music this time around and that gamble paid off. Any progger that leans to the more eclectic side of jazz rock/fusion will find a lot to enjoy here. 4.4 stars.

Review by ExittheLemming
4 stars Say No to Hippy Pot Amos

There's not many new developments in music capable of stirring the habitually mordant sang-froid of PA's Rollie Anderson (a.k.a. Chicapah) so I therefore owe a large debt of gratitude to Forney's most distinguished resident for introducing me to this very fine and innovative band.

Blu Bop - Fleetingly suggests Mahavishnu's entrance examination for the School of Crafty Guitarists at the outset but deviates very quickly into a malleable jazz fusion vehicle. They exploit the wide angular scale leaps of hard bop but soften the latter's routinely jarring frisson with some airier chord choices, a very mellifluous but rapid dialogue between bass, piano, drumitar !? and (doggone it) banjo !? all buttressed by some swinging and slinky jazz grooves. This is a real shock to the system as I was expecting an 'earthier' Dixie Dregs but not so, as illustrated by the unlikely marriage of some 'Deputy Dawg' textures wedded to the melodic dialect of Art Blakey. Their daddies buckshot should be firmly in the Flecktones bottoms for this midnight elopement but somehow it works brilliantly and they are well over the county line by the tune's end.

Flying saucer Dudes - if there are intelligent critters on other planets, according to Bela and his buddys their climate will be sufficiently warm to ensure a perennial suntan judging by this funky and soulful welcoming tribute. No landing party is ever gonna zap us with their ray guns as long as the 'Tones get that particular gig (Houston, we have a solution) I never thought the humble banjo was capable of such stirring beauty and nuances of mood and expression as those coaxed by Mr Fleck from his axe of choice on this album.You are also advised to pencil in one Victor Wooten Esq as a bass player of consummate taste and eloquence who, like percussionist brother Roy, is capable of nailing a groove with a staple gun.

Turtle Rock - a gloriously tongue in cheek stadium rawker for those who would never be seen dead in one of the places. In other less skilled hands this could lapse into self conscious irony but such is the strength of the musical ideas and their subsequent imaginative treatment anyone not wearing a huge joyous grin at this track's conclusion must be shackled in gridirons. A sports broadcast theme tune for those who loathe sports.This is what Zappa fans think their hero's jesting instrumentals sound like but never do.

Flight of the Cosmic Hippo - Considering that there are sufficient jazz standards from an earlier era to last any fledgling jazzer several lifetimes over, it is something of a jolt to discover their ranks have now been swollen by one courtesy of Bela Fleck. As soon as you hear this your will find your eyes drawn to the sleeve-notes searching in vain for the names of Monk, Ellington, Strayhorn or Davis. A shoo-in for the 'instant jazz classic award' left unclaimed now for nigh on 40 years. Hippo takes it's unyielding tread from Otis Blackwell's Fever and furnishes that addictive rhythm with a melodic hook that like all similarly inspired phenomena, appears to have existed forever once untapped. Just in case you're wondering, it ain't remotely psychedelic but any tune capable of mimicking a lumbering and loveable creature roiling up to a waterhole for a well earned 'dunk' from nature's gantry, is deserving of the label 'cosmic'.

The Star Spangled Banner - I was dreading this but even my delicate Limey sensibilities are not bruised by a refreshing reading of a tune that is inextricably linked to all we from Europe associate with crass vulgarity. Howard Levy's harmonica is slippery exquisite and the indelible melody is never cloaked in any 'gee whizz' plank-spanking pyrotechnics. Bela and Co utilise some sly and astute chord substitutions to imbue the tune with a wistful melancholy we don't normally associate with same.

Star of the County Down - I like how the group pay homage to their formative cultural heritage without recourse to any ingratiating sentimentality. This is a swaying country waltz not dissimilar to many others you may have heard but the crucial difference is they were unlikely to have featured the heart breaking and plaintive harmonica of Howard Levy and the understated brilliance of Bela Fleck's banjo. Both gentlemen clearly have a healthy respect for the past but at no point in their performance do you ever feel they are trapped by it. At surface level the melodic contour carries a feint trace of Dylan's Man in the Long Black Coat so considering it is listed as the time honoured 'trad arr' on the sleeve, did ol' Big Nose purloin this old tune for his own ends?

Jekyll and Hide (and Ted and Alice) - this composition features Fleck 'up close and personal' on an unaccompanied intro which illustrates his exemplary attitude to his craft i.e. he draws upon a rich musical legacy most of us will recognise instantly but invests same with a modernity of his own devising that grows and enhances the tradition. There are quotations from North American and Eastern European folk melodies, subtle meter changes, a chromaticism and extemporaneous bent normally found in jazz, and an insistent rock pulse that is never allowed to either overpower or disappear entirely. Bugger, I almost neglected to say it's as catchy as hell to boot.

Michelle - Considering that the source started as a pastiche, I'm not sure the irony of a mock French chanson is transferable into the instrumental realm. The 'Tones reading of this Beatles tune is that of a quaint and deliberately understated waltz. Very tastefully done to be sure, but of the two main pitfalls lurking for Fab Four adaptations both are fallen into here: the unadorned beauty of the Beatles music does not respond well to 'gilding the lily' plus considerably more irreverence is required if new light is to be shed in the direction of that which is hitherto roped off from adulteration. (I'm none too crazy about the original either and no amount of witty jazz licks or conservatory heads nodding appreciatively is going to change that)

Hole in the Wall - Possibly the heaviest track on the album but once again the weight of the drums and bass is judiciously (and deliciously dammit) compensated by the relative lightness and playfulness of Fleck's skittering banjo which weaves all manner of mischievous patterns under, over and through the unequivocal Jazz Rock leaning of the pivotal themes. It is testimony to their unwavering taste that Bela and his colleagues resist what must occasionally be an overriding temptation to inject some toe curling 'Yee Haw' hootenanny hoe-down drivel to proceedings with a view to harvesting the lucrative s.h.i.t. kicker dollar. Kudos for their restraint.

Flight of the Cosmic Hippo (Reprise) - No beast that size is capable of making a (slight return) are they? Nothing wrong with the author realising he has a fully credible future jazz standard in his songbook. Give the critter a Grammy for God's sake.

I'd hesitate to describe this as 'Jazz Rock/Fusion' in the conventional sense as although there is a reasonable amount of that herein, the other 'alien' elements of bluegrass, folk, country, gospel and pop together with the revolutionary textures deployed, make such a label inadequate to describe the potency of the contents. It's become almost fashionable to deny that there will ever be anything new under the sun at this juncture in the 21st Century but Bela Fleck and the Flecktones prove if nothing else, that such post-modern sentiments are solely the preserve of the jaded, the unimaginative and the plain vanilla talentless.

Latest members reviews

4 stars Anyone ever notice that the album cover for this album is just a wider shot of the band's debut cover? To say the least, it's better that they went with more as opposed to just re-using the same cover or something along those lines. You know, speaking of a zoom-out, that's what this album is- a ... (read more)

Report this review (#1598082) | Posted by aglasshouse | Tuesday, August 16, 2016 | Review Permanlink

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