By Mitch Myers
A reunion of the original quartet known as Béla Fleck and the Flecktones can be considered something of an event. Banjoist Fleck is probably the most accomplished “newgrass” player of the last three decades, bassist Victor Wooten a virtuoso in his own right and brother Roy “Futureman” Wooten is practically otherworldly on his ever-evolving, custom-made Drumitar. Add to all of this the return of pianist/harmonica wizard Howard Levy, and the potential for genre-defying instrumental improvisation is high. Basically, these guys can play anything they want, and for the first recording of this particular group in nearly 20 years, Rocket Science shoots for the stars.
In some ways, Howard Levy’s unique musicianship and creativity have provided a real boost for his old comrades. The compositions are all quite bold, showcasing everyone’s versatility and highlighting the collective power of the band. Fleck’s impressive banjo style somehow works in the foreground and background simultaneously, as Wooten’s liquid bass weaves between Fleck and Futureman’s authentically rhythmic drum-work samples. Levy’s harmonica can be the least fascinating sound here, but the sonic direction of the Flecktones is still much more adventurous whenever he’s involved.
The composition “Life in Eleven” uses Bulgarian dance rhythms, and it might be the most engaging use of the unusual time signature since the Grateful Dead’s group-mind-meld on “The Eleven.” Futureman struts his stuff convincingly on “The Secret Drawer,” which segues nicely into Levy’s piano-based composition “Sweet Pomegranates.” Mostly following the old Weather Report adage of always soloing and never soloing, the Flecktones are simply amazing musicians whose rapport can’t be beat.
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