Its been nearly two decades since Fleck and the original line-up of The Flecktones, with pianist/harmonica player Howard Levy back in the fold alongside Fleck, bassist Victor Wooten, and percussionist/ Drumitarist Roy "Futureman" Wooten, have been in a studio. Rocket Science (Entertainment One Music) Fleck has taken the banjo far from his bluegrass roots in such bands as The New Grass Revival with the Flecktones, who are equally innovative. Levy’s piano roams from hard bop to a Keith Jarrett romanticism while also playing his innovative harmonica with a technique has cast a spell on a wide range of musicians from blues to jazz. Wooten perhaps eschews bass effects here, but lays down some of the funkiest bass one os likely to have heard in some time, while Futureman unleashes here Drumitar, his MIDI-based device that allows him to trigger samples using his fingers and which replaces the original which was on its last legs after two decades.
There are two many joys to be experienced on the performances heard here. Prickly Pair mixes in bluesy guitar sounding playing from Fleck (on an electric Deering Crossfire set against Levy’s harp as Wooten adding a funk bass and Futureman sets out a shuffle beat, with a brief interlude of ragged stride piano (sampled from a recording?). Levy and Fleck collaborated on a suite, Joyful Spring and Life In Eleven, that makes use of the odd time signature of the Bulgarian dance rhythm called Gankino. Levy’s piano has a classicist touch and the performance almost suggests a waltz before Levy kicks off a blistering tempo with his harp on Life in Eleven. The seamless transitions in tempo, themes and mood can be mesmerizing within and between performances. Falling Forward has a lyricism between Levy’s piano, Fleck’s jazzy solo and Wooten’s bass counterpoint that might make a Ron Carter smile.
The fusion of jazz, blues, funk, world, folk, bluegrass and other elements helped establish Bela Fleck & the Flecktones two decades ago as a breath of musical fresh air. They continue to defy categorization and Rocket Science shows that listening to them is as exhilarating as ever.
My review copy was received from a publicist.