Band `flecks' its muscles with greatest hits album
By GEOFFREY RAHIE
Scene Music Critic
Amazing. That pretty much sums up the musical talents of Bela Fleck and the other members of the Flecktones. Since 1990 the group has recorded many Grammy award-winning albums that blend jazz, country and other world influences. Greatest Hits of the 20th Century is a compilation of the band's standout tracks from the last 10 years.
The album provides a great overview of the band's career. Early on, the band was comprised of Bela Fleck on various banjos, Victor Wooten on bass, Future Man on SynthAxe Drumitar (basically an electric device used instead of a drumset) and Howard Levy on piano, synthesizers and harmonica.
After Levy left in 1992, the band continued on as a trio until it landed the excellent saxophone player Jeff Coffin last year. Despite the personnel changes, the music has never suffered one bit.
Dynamic instrumentals are what the band is best at, and that's why they comprise 10 of the 11 tracks on the disc. Songs like "The Sinister Minister" create such tension with Wooten's booming bass and Levy's mysterious harmonica it makes one feel as though he is trapped on a dark alley. The next track, "Stomping Grounds," is so damn happy it makes the listener want to go outside and plant some flowers. The sound of the repetitive bridge led by Fleck's freewheeling banjo is addictive.
What else can be said about Victor Wooten's bass skills? After hearing this dude play bass one cannot listen to any other bassist for about three days. He plays complex lines that seem as if five men were playing five different basses, without being overbearing. He can double any of Fleck's crazy banjo licks or lay back and groove with Future Man.
Credit should also be thrown to Fleck, Future Man and Coffin. Fleck can play insane banjo riffs, such as on "Vix 9," and then compose a tender melody on the beautiful "Big Country."
Future Man plays his strange drum contraption like no one else (probably because he built the contraption himself). Coffin adds the much-needed musical ornamentation, as on "Road House Blues."
Special guest Dave Matthews sings backup vocals on "Communication," which unfortunately is the weakest song. It is the only song on the record with vocals, and demonstrates why this contemporary ensemble should only play instrumental pieces. Future Man sings empty lyrics while the band struggles to back him up. Matthews' singing only compounds the problem since his vocal style does not fit in with the band's genre at all.
This disc might be better suited towards the new fan trying to get a sample of what the band is all about. Established fans of the Flecktones will probably have all of the songs in their collections anyway. If the mission of the record was to show what has been going on in the contemporary jazz world the past ten years, the band has truly succeeded.
All Scene Stories for Tuesday, November 23, 1999