Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones - The Hidden Land (Columbia, 2006)

Banjoist Bela Fleck hooks back up with his longtime backing group The Flecktones featuring longtime electric bass stalwart Victor Wooten. Their music is a mix of Americana, funk grooves and jazz and makes for pleasant if unchallenging listening. After opening with a brief Bach classical composition, the group moves into "P'lod in the House" which kicks the tempo up with pulsating electric bass and funky drum breaks. Wooten's bass is an active presence in almost every performance on this disc, especially on "Labyrinth" where it underpins pensive sounding flute and saxophone solos while scatted vocals bubble just underneath the surface.

There's a brief acoustic interlude on "Who's Got Three" with unamplified banjo (fingers scraping quite audibly on the fretboard) and clarinet taking center stage. Funky bass moves back into the forefront with the upbeat "Weed Whacker" with some quick pickin' and bouncy saxophone. "Subterfuge" gets a little more adventurous as the band jumps the rails of its comfort zone with an electric guitar solo, before ending things on a back-porch note, pickin' the banjo and tootin' on the flute for "The Whistle Song." Jam band fans will find a lit of grooves to like here, and while I found myself wishing that they took a few more chances, the album does make for pleasant if unchallenging background music.

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