Bela Fleck and The Flecktones – Rocket Science [TrackList follows] – E1 EOM-CD-2133 ****:
Bela Fleck & The Marcus Roberts Trio featuring Rodney Jordan & Jason Marsalis – Across the Imaginary Divide [TrackList follows] – Rounder Records ****:
Banjo virtuoso Fleck turns out another unique CD here with one of the two bands he frequently works with (the other is New Grass Revival). Named after Bela Bartok, he first got into the banjo at age 15. The Flecktones, founded in 1988, is a quartet but far from your usual quartet. Keyboardist and harmonica player Howard Levy is new to the band, then there is pirate-attired Roy “Future Man” Wooten, who plays various weird synthesizer-based percussion, plus Victor Lemonte Wooten on bass.
Fleck has won Grammies and been nominated in more different categories than any other musician. They include country, pop, jazz, bluegrass, classical, folk, spoken word, composition and arranging. He cites Chick Corea, Charlie Parker and Earl Scruggs as his main influences. He did a tour and CD with Corea in 2007 and his long-time friend and playing-partner has been bassist Edgar Meyer. He’s also done some amazing classical CDs, as well as forays into East Indian music, and a documentary film.
Bluegrass seems to be the main thrust behind the Flecktones albums, but in general they are just a fun mix of various pop, jazz and world music influences. Titles like “Prickly Pear” and “Earthling Parade,” give an idea of the tongue-in-cheek slant of the band. Levy’s harmonica adds a fine snap to the sounds of the band, and he also contributes three of the dozen tunes. Most of the rest are from Fleck, who plays six different banjos on this CD.
Gravity Lane, Prickly Pear, Joyful Spring, Life in Eleven, Falling Forward, Storm Warning, Like Water, Earthling Parade, The Secret Drawer, Sweet Pomegranates, Falini, Bottle Rocket
Marcus Roberts is a blind American jazz pianist who has won great fame as a stride pianist and specializes in interpreting Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton and George Gershwin, among others. He is known for his emphasis on a walking bass line.
Roberts, from New Orleans, is good friend of the entire musical Marsalis family, and has Jason Marsalis as his drummer in this trio. He founded the trio in 1995, and has achieved much attention for their approach to the jazz trio—having all three musicians share equally in shaping the direction of their music. For this CD, the trio share their quick musical reflexes and imaginations with someone else noted for exactly the same thing: Bela Fleck. Marcus Roberts is known for being able to successfully mix stride and ragtime with odd dissonances such as in Thelonious Monk, so that counterparts the wide-ranging abilities of Bela Fleck in fusing bluegrass with jazz, pop and everything else.
And here they are, together in one session. The result is not quite as crazy as most Flecktones albums, but it does sound a bit like a really virtuoso banjoist just happened to drop by to sit in with a first-rate jazz trio. The title tune is probably the hit of the album; Fleck blends in beautifully with the trio on that one. Roberts uses a very melodic, straight-ahead jazz style here, letting Fleck shine as his usual virtuosic soloist. Several of the tunes are strongly bluegrass-sounding, in spite of the jazz trio, such as “Petunia,” whose title seems to suggest exactly that. I really liked “One Blue Truth,” which sounded like I’d heard it before in a film soundtrack or somewhere else.
Rounder sent me an advance copy with a cover photo of Fleck and Roberts, but the final CD has a graphic design cover. Sonics are excellent.
- “Some Roads Lead Home” (Fleck) – 6:16
- “I’m Gonna Tell You This Story One More Time” (Roberts) – 5:42
- “Across The Imaginary Divide” (Fleck) – 4:42
- “Let Me Show You What To Do” (Roberts) – 4:55
- “Petunia” (Fleck/Roberts) – 5:01
- “Topaika” (Roberts) – 4:33
- “One Blue Truth” (Fleck) – 4:26
- “Let’s Go” (Roberts) – 5:58
- “Kalimba” (Fleck) – 6:22
- “The Sunshine And The Moonlight” (Roberts) – 5:37
- “That Old Thing” (Fleck) – 5:07
- “That Ragtime Feeling” (Roberts) – 4:08