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Bela Fleck and The Flecktones

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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Bela Fleck and The Flecktones UFO Tofu album cover
4.15 | 11 ratings | 4 reviews | 27% 5 stars

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Studio Album, released in 1992

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. The West County (4:30)
2. Sex In A Pan (3:33)
3. Nemo's Dream (5:07)
4. Bonnie & Slyde (4:18)
5. Scuttlebutt (4:04)
6. UFO Tofu (3:46)
7. Magic Fingers (5:13)
8. True North (4:54)
9. Life Without Elvis (5:06)
10. Seresta (3:39)
11. The Yee-Haw Factor (6:57)
12. After The Storm (3:52)

Total Time 55:01

Line-up / Musicians

- Béla Fleck / acoustic, slide, electric & nylon strung banjos
- Howard Levy / harmonicas (G, A, Bb, C & D), piano, synthesizers, pennywhistle & ocarina
- Rpy ''Future Man'' Wooten / Synth-Axe Drumitar
- Victor Wooten / 4 string bass, 5 string bass, 5 string fretless bass & stereo bass

Releases information

Label - Warner Bros. Inc

Thanks to p0mt3 for the addition
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BELA FLECK AND THE FLECKTONES UFO Tofu ratings distribution

(11 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(27%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(45%)
Good, but non-essential (27%)
Collectors/fans only (0%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)


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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Tapfret
5 stars Enigmatic/Eclectic Groove Band's Musical Pinnacle

Sub-genre: Jazz/Rock Fusion (.for hip hillbillies)
For Fans of: Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea Electric Band, any stylistic crossover based on solid groove. People who can't stand the rest of your collection will end up tapping their toes.
Vocal Style: none
Guitar Style: none
Keyboard Style: Primarily midi-piano with rare use of string synth patches and classic electric piano sounds
Percussion Style: Futureman's Synthaxe Drumitar, one of the trademarks of the band. Few can tell the percussion is from a source other than a traditional jazz/rock drum kit.
Bass Style: Slappy, tappy, abundantly groovy and soulful. A number of different electric basses are used, both fretted and fretless.
Other Instruments: Banjo! (electric and acoustic), harmonica, jew's harp, whistles.

Summary: Bela Flek is a banjo player who's fundamental influences and earlier works were primarily shaped by bluegrass. His band, The Flektones, peppers modern jazz writing, production value, and technicality with bluegrass folksy-isms. UFOTOFU represents, in this reviewer's opinion, the pinnacle of this artful blend. The first two works, the self-titled debut and Flight of the Cosmic Hippo were good albums, but lacked the full-flavored spirit of this album. The canvas was stroked with broader textures of the incorporated styles. Flek's banjo tore in with more edge, occasionally using distortion, dissonance and discordance to linger in territories rarely heard from the instrument. Flowing arpeggios backed by Howard Levy's eerie, echoing harmonica create an ambience that tempers the music's technicality with a deep soulfulness. He uses multiple harmonicas to accommodate the vast number of key changes in the music. The album would mark the multi-instrumentalist, Levy's, finale as a full-time member of the group. Victor Wooten, easily a top 5 bass talent in the Jazz/Rock community (and probably all of music, his work on Tribal Tech Tones with Scott Henderson and Steve Smith is highly recommended), mixes wicked funk slapping with warm walks and slides with a fretless bass, not to mention occasionally providing simultaneous bass and melody by playing 2 basses at once. His bass playing supplies an undeniable groove to the project. While his talent in previous albums is evident, it is broadcast in full force in UFOTOFU.

The album opens with a frantic arpeggio that fades into a subtle drum shuffle on The West County. The song is a perfect introduction as it exemplifies the unfamiliar yet comfortable stylistic blends of the album. The structure is so smooth that it is easy to forget how technically brilliant the playing is. The ambience is encountered in other similarly identified songs as True North and the spacey, melancholy closer After the Storm. Hard hitting funkiness breaks in with the second track Sex in a Pan as well as The Yee-Haw Factor, Scuttlebutt and the band's favorite song to display their soloing skills during live performances, Magic Fingers. More experimental musical territory can be found in Life Without Elvis, a somewhat psychotic sounding foray for the band. The technical highlight of the bands instrumental prowess, as well as ensemble cohesiveness is found in the title track, UFOTOFU written as a musical palindrome.

Final Score: An easy 5 stars. This kind of eclecticism is essential to any prog collection.

Review by Chicapah
4 stars I was ready to knock off a star or two while assessing the merits of this album for being no more than a mere extension of the trek they had taken through territory they'd already explored on their first couple of recordings but then I noticed this in the notes: "This music was performed live in the studio." Well, kiss my ring and call me the pope! That information made me listen with a different ear to what BFF tried to accomplish on "UFO TOFU" because laying down stuff so involved so tightly and without overdubs is a feat that few artists will even attempt, much less pull off with such aplomb. Having spent a slew of hours in the studio myself over the years I can avow from experience that it ain't exactly tiddlywinks to create flawless tracks and that it takes musicianship above and beyond the norm to do such a thing. But to do it all at once as a group? Fuggitaboutit. I guess they were trying to challenge themselves by creating something they could reproduce note-for- note on stage. Well, as they say, it's not bragging if you can do it.

The opener, "The West County," fades you into a busy commotion that eventually morphs to a jazzy, Latin-tinged fandango. Every band member impresses as they always do but Howard Levy's piano work is downright liberating. Bassist Victor Lemonte Wooten's James Brown-inspired "Sex in a Pan" is next and it's a funky romp that still retains the unmistakable Flecktone sensitivities that sets them so far apart from the herd. There's a lot of spirited back and forth riffing between Bela Fleck's banjo and Howard's harmonica but it's Victor's silky bass lines that steal this particular show. "Nemo's Dream" follows and it's one of the best songs on the CD. After a proggy synth intro Bela's slightly dissonant chords give the tune an air of tense mystery and the tricky 7/8 time signature keeps you on your toes. Levy's piano ride is thrilling and further convinces me that his keyboard prowess is vastly underrated. The number comes full circle and they go out the same way they came in.

"Bonnie & Slyde" is a smooth, pleasant stroll through the countryside. Contemporary without being patronizing, it would be right at home as the theme for a show about trout fishing. I know, that sounds bad, but it's really not a distraction at all. Another gem, "Scuttlebutt," is an ingenious "get the funk outa my face" kinda deal that contains a strong dose of clever complexity tossed in for good measure. Howard shines on the keyboard again and Fleck's banjo doesn't sound like any banjo I ever heard at the Grand Old Opry if you know what I'm getting at. The group is consistently tighter than a chubby stripper's G-string and I offer this cut as proof positive. The album's namesake is a speedy-paced, jazzy doo-dad wherein everybody bedazzles both individually and collectively. In the notes they claim it to be a musical palindrome as implied by the title but I didn't play it backwards to check so I'll take their word for it. (Not really. I remain skeptical.) Whatever it was that their muse whispered to them worked, though.

"Magic Fingers" sports a bluesy feel and Wooten romps & rolls splendidly on his solo. Levy's harp is sharp as a razor and Bela is uncannily graceful on his banjo, an instrument not known for its grace. On "True North" Howard's gleeful pennywhistle lends an Irish aura to the intro before it quickly evolves into an engaging waltz with an impish attitude. Levy's exquisite piano ride is like golden sunshine reflecting off of rippling water. "Life Without Elvis" is next and it's another highlight of the proceedings. It's an eccentric little ditty that befits their boast of spotting the King of Rock & Roll "in perfect health on the bullet train." There's a nifty section where drummer (or whatever he calls himself) Future Man and Fleck's banjo spar brilliantly and the song is filled with odd moments of cool weirdness.

Howard contributes his laid back "Seresta" at this juncture and it's another swaying waltz that features his sprightly harmonica, Victor's impressive bass chording technique and Levy's somewhat cocktail lounge-ish pianoisms. The tune's not totally out of character for them but it does drag the momentum a bit. "The Yee-haw Factor" definitely has hillbilly overtones but Wooten's sleek bass lines keep it out of the barnyard. They also throw in numerous twists and turns to keep it from becoming predictable hokum or seriously compromising their eclectic mannerisms while still giving a respectable nod to modern bluegrass trends. The frantic fadeout is commendable. They end the album on a very high note with "After the Storm." Bela's banjo cruises over the kind of hypnotic, dense synthesizer settings that I can't resist overindulging in and the tune's upward-climbing progression is reassuring and hopeful without ever veering into crass sentimentality. It may be simple but there's nothing simple-minded about what these guys concoct together here.

I will concede that there is an unavoidable sameness about Bela Fleck & The Flecktones' music that becomes noticeable and numbing after a while but I can say the same thing about Chopin's piano etudes. I'm not comparing BFF to that great genius but you get the point, I'm sure. At the risk of becoming a broken record or an annoying parrot with dementia I'll reiterate that, despite what your instincts may tell you about a group that utilizes such unlikely instrumentation, these boys do make some very progressive noises and deserve to be investigated by the sort of inquiring minds that tend to frequent this website. They will turn your head, I guarantee it. 3.8 stars.

Latest members reviews

4 stars A very artistic and similarly quite unique band from Tennessee called Bela Fleck and the Flecktones came around in 1990, also releasing their eponymous album in the same year. Their history stems from the band's front-man, Bela Fleck himself. Fleck was well known as a young banjoist who started ... (read more)

Report this review (#1487783) | Posted by aglasshouse | Monday, November 16, 2015 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Although UFO TOFU is a very technically impressive album from a very technically adept band - especially considering they record everything live in the studio - it is somewhat less engaging and lustrous than The Flecktone's previous two albums. Victor Wooten, slap bassist extraordinaire, makes ever ... (read more)

Report this review (#286044) | Posted by Triceratopsoil | Friday, June 11, 2010 | Review Permanlink


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