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Bela Fleck and The Flecktones - The Hidden Land CD (album) cover


Bela Fleck and The Flecktones


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.13 | 5 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars Right from the off, I could tell that this album was going to be much more Jazz-influenced that the band's previous release. The first two tracks are almost completely pure Jazz, with Coffin and Future Man taking the most prominent roles. The synth drum and percussion stylings are very reminiscent of the past greats in the genre, and the Sax stuff reminds me a lot of Charlie 'Bird' Parker.

''Rococo'' is a little more varied, but still more-or-less straightforward Jazz. Coffin now plays a flute, and Fleck's banjo adds a slight folksy edge to an otherwise straightforward Jazz tune. Wooten's bass playing first begins to stand out in this song. The flute melody played by Coffin really drives the song, and it's quite moving.

The track flows naturally into the next, titled ''Labyrinth''. A little more eclectic stuff, finally. A really fantastic bass lead section starts at around 1:45 (accompanied by some nice drumming and synthed vocals) and doesn't quit until 2:30, when finally the rest of the band comes back in with the melody. It's then Bela's turn to shine with what sounds like a classical guitar, but it could easily be something else; my ears aren't keen enough yet to tell for sure. (He does play guitars and banjitars as well as his traditional banjo on this record, but it's hard for me to tell when those moments are.)

At four minutes in, and absolutely beautiful flute solo from Coffin seasons the track with style, soon followed by his signature sax stylings. He's the bright light in this band, and always adds something new and interesting to the songs. ''Labyrinth'' is my favorite song on the record. So much happens in it.

''Kaleidoscope'' is the first predominately non-Jazz tune on The Hidden Land. I mean, the Jazz stuff is there, but it is far outweighed by a more uplifting, bluegrass-style melody. However, a particularly wild sax solo section near the song's middle ensures that the main influence on this album isn't soon forgotten. On the whole, it's a really nice, varied track, and probably the 'happiest' song yet on the album, if being happy is something you aim at when hearing music.

The banjo intro to ''Who's Got Three?'' Is straight out of the south, but soon the flute comes in and adds a bluesy palette. This goes on for quite some time as just the banjo and flute before any other instruments come in. It's really rather nice and peaceful. Finally the rhythm section kicks in at 2:20, lifting the song up into a more groovy environment. Close to for minutes, the song shifts gears completely and once again goes almost completely 'Jazz'. Bela's banjo playing is especially clever.

''Weed Whacker'' starts with some killer bass from Victor Wooten and crazy beats from Future Man, then Bela comes in with some cool chords, followed by his signature virtuoso stylings. That then serves as a backing track for Jeff Coffin's soulful sax work. This is a very uplifting tune as well, as usual led by Coffin's heartfelt sax playing as well as Fleck's mighty fingers. It's also the longest track on the record, which is weird, since I don't have much more to say about it. Usually the longest tracks on albums are the most varied and interesting (if they're done well). This song is well done, but I just can't think of anything more to write on it. Oh well. moving on, then.

''Couch Potato'' is one of the shorter songs on the record, but it's really cool. Basically, slow, hillbilly music for a while, then a sudden jolt of crazy jazz saxophone. Rinse, repeat. That's about all there is to this song. But the frantic back-and-forth between the styles and track length itself make sure things don't get boring.

''Chennai'' has a very indian vibe to it (good thing, considering the name of this song), with a lot of ambience (including more tuvan throat singing, it sounds to me) and Bela playing something very unusual. Soon, the rhythm section comes in with cool, grooving beats and Fleck has now changed into playing something more spacey. Coffin then breaks in with some killer flute overtop of everything for a little while, before meeting up with Bela for a side-by-side movement that really accentuates the mood. By three minutes and fifty seconds in, all of the guys in the band are taking short moments to step out of line and play something unique to them. The space between these moments gets short and shorter until finally every meets up again, playing the same melody until the end. Really awesome song, but nothing like anything else on the album.

The next track, ''Subterfuge'', isn't one of my favorites. It's still quite good, but seems a bit directionless to me until it hits 1:30. At that point Bela plays a really cool electric banjo (guitar?) groove that just won't quit. Then at 2:13 Jeff and Victor bring in the next phenomenal moment. Soon the other two band members are relevant again, and the song goes out with a bang, returning to the original sax theme before moving into the next track. Good overall, but better stuff is on The Hidden Land.

''Interlude'' is just that. It's beautiful, but merely a transition. Let's move on.

''Misunderstood'' is the second-longest song in this album, and is, in my opinion, a much better song than the very longest track, ''Weed Whacker''. It's much more varied and adventurous. The bass theme that keeps reprising throughout is beautiful, catchy and memorable. This song goes in so many different directions, it's not really worth describing it moment for moment; suffice it to say that well into the five minute mark, you'll be hearing a massive wall of sound, but for the last thirty seconds of the track, it calms down again, serving up a very pleasant outro.

''The Whistle Tune'' is the final and most Bluegrass-inspired song to be found on The Hidden Land. Fitting name, to, because as Fleck plays away on his banjo, Coffin lays down the most beautiful melody on the whole album on his whistle. So the 'whistle tune' itself serves as a brilliant and lovely album closer. I feel like I'm out on the open range whenever I hear this song. I might even go as far as to say that is makes me emotional from time to time, but let's keep that just between you and me, k?

So how does this album fare when compared to other Flecktones works? Well, I certainly wouldn't put it near the very top of my list, but it's still well above the mid point for me. I suppose when I rate this, I need to do so on its own merits, but also take into consideration the types of music fans that may be approaching it. Let me say this: if you are new to this band, The Hidden Land is not the way to go. It gets a little easier to digest at certain points, but on the whole, a lot of the music on this particular album is heavy influenced by some really heavy Jazz stylings, and I think a more eclectic, varied release like Outbound would be a much better choice for an introduction.

As for people already familiar with Bela and crew, but haven't heard this one yet . . . I think if you're a big Jazz fan, you'll be more likely to thoroughly enjoy it than some others, but on the whole, it's an average Flecktones release. You'll surely find something like, here, but at times I think the balance was a little off. Then again, this IS Jazz-Rock in a big way, so in that sense, it's one of the more fitting albums by them for the sub-genre they are located in. Still, not one of their very best.

3.5 stars. Fairly happy listening.

JLocke | 3/5 |


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