It's been fifteen years since Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
first wowed audiences and pioneered a genre all their own, mixing virtuosic musicianship with experimental, bluegrass, jazz, and pop influences, but in 2005 the Flecktones did something they've never done before: they took a break. On January 31, the reunited core group of banjoist Fleck, bassist Victor Wooten
, percussionist Future Man, and saxophonist Jeff Coffin
mark a stripped down and explosive return to roots, and new creative peak, with the release of 'The Hidden Land
' (click for review).
"There is a hidden land out there, a territory where people push the boundaries of music" explains Fleck, who says that the album's title is a nod to music that exists for its own sake rather than transient or commercial instincts."In some ways we live under the radar, but at the same time we have had some amazingly large numbers of people interested in what we're doing" he continues, this album reflects that - it's an uncompromising album. It's serious Flecktones."
Famed for playing over 200 dates a year (in 2004 alone they sold over 500,000 concert tickets) as their busy schedule wound down the group began album sessions with a statement of core principles. "We used to have a rule that everything we did had to be possible to do live with just the four of us, no additional parts laid down in the studio. We haven't worked in that way since 1993, but it was the concept for these sessions," says Fleck.
Recorded entirely in Fleck's studio at his home in Nashville, songwriting proceeded quickly for the re-energized quartet. "Kaleiloscope" was a collaboration of equals, with each band member contributing a different section to the song, in sequence. The genesis for "P'lod" however, was more mysterious: "Future Man shared the song with us, and said that it had come from a dream, where Jeff had taught it to him. He's still pretty convinced that Jeff wrote it, but we can't quite figure out how that's possible."
Other album highlights include the winsome "Who's Got Three," bluesy "Labyrinth" and the expansive eastern-tinged "Chennai." The albums lone cover (of sorts), album opener "Bach Fugue" is an incredible piece of writing by J.S. Bach translated to the Flecktones unique instrument stack. Says Fleck, "I had been looking for the right three-part Bach piece for the band for quite some time, with Edgar Meyer's help I finally found it."
Widely recognized as a banjo virtuoso and one of the most innovative recording artists in music, Bela Fleck has been a Grammy nominee 20 times in a remarkable ten different categories and has won eight times. Formed in 1989, the Flecktones debuted in 1990 with a "blu-bop" mix of jazz and bluegrass and soon became a commercially successful, critically-acclaimed and award-winning phenomenon.
Following a trip to Africa for recording sessions and a documentary earlier this year, Fleck is currently playing dates with Stanley Clarke
and Jean-Luc Ponty
, and will tour with Edgar Meyer
later this year. The release of "The Hidden Land" will be followed by extensive U.S. touring for the Flecktones in 2006.