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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The fab four return with their eclectic, visionary signature sound., 18 May 2011
This review is from: Rocket Science (Audio CD)
Even though there hasn't been much of a member shake-up since the band's inception in 1988, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones have just released a brand new record featuring their classic lineup.
Fleck first united the Flecktones in 1988. The original members included Howard Levy, who played piano, harmonica, and ocarina, among other instruments; bass guitarist Victor Lemonte Wooten, and his brother Roy "Future Man" Wooten on the drumitar, an electronic drum shaped like a guitar.
The Flecktones recorded their eponymous debut album in 1990 and followed it up with "Flight of the Cosmic Hippo" (1991).
From the start, there was a special kinship between the four musicians, a bond forged in a mutual passion for creativity and artistic advancement. Two more breakthrough albums and a whole lot of live dates followed before Howard Levy decided to move on in late 1992.
The departure of pianist/harmonica player and founding member in 1992 left the band as a trio. They persevered, playing as a trio for years and with many special guests, before saxophonist Jeff Coffin joined the ensemble in 1998.
After the passing of Dave Matthews Band saxophonist LeRoi Moore in 2008, Coffin took a hiatus from the band to help out the DMB camp, igniting the spark that brought Levy back to the fold in 2009.
Now, with the original lineup in place, the jazz fusion quartet's new album, "Rocket Science", is the first studio effort in 20 years that sees the incarnation of Bela Fleck, Howard Levy, and brothers Victor and Roy "Future Man" Wooten holding it down with their eclectic signature sound.
This reunion is not only a treat for fans, but for the band members as well.
The re-entry of Levy allows them to visit the past in true Flecktone style, meaning it re-examines old strengths, but in new ways. Levy doubles on keys and harmonica, allowing for another chordal instrument when appropriate.
While Levy certainly didn't invent jazz harmonica, it's a much less blatantly "Jazz" instrument than Jeff Cottons saxophone, reminding just how left field this band was in 1990.
Victor Wooten remains one of the best bassists on the planet and his chops are as staggering as ever.
Hearing him again in this "old" context, you can feel by how much more mature and musical Victor's choices are. He was never merely about flash over substance but his impressive skills are more cogent than ever.
Bela Fleck - from his part - is not just one of the best banjo players in the world, he is one of the most daring musicians around, using his popularity to explore new challenges.
The new album is a real treat for Bela's fans.
"Rocket Science" is just that - an extraordinary collection of tunes by unbelievably talented musicians at the height of their craft.
The CD, that features banjo, keyboards, harmonica, bass, percussion and Future Man's drumitar, is at once a new and a familiar listening experience.
There's that unmistakable banjo as the musical backbone of an upbeat "Gravity Time" right out of the gate.
"Prickly Pear" is funky while "Joyful Spring" is light, simple and pretty.
The banjo is paired with Howard Levy's harmonica on "Falani", one of best tracks on the album.
Keyboards take a central role in "Sweet Pomegranates".
The last track, "Bottle Rocket", is the Flecktone full meal deal, upsized.
All the players find their stride in this amazing piece, which will almost certainly find its way into the Flecktones' concert playlist.
In all honesty, it's hard to say if this album mark a return of a fab band from the past, or just a new beginning of a brilliamt, energetic and energizing jazz group.

My favourite tracks: "Gravity Lane", "Sweet Pomegranates", and "Bottle Rocket".
Enjoy!

Update. The album debuts at # 1 of The Billboard Top Jazz albums. Issue date: Week of June 04, 2011.

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