Bela Fleck & the Flecktones,
Flight of the Cosmic Hippo
(Warner Bros., 1991)

Bela Fleck & the Flecktones are all multi-talented individuals. Each member of this band plays more than one instrument. Fleck plays the banjo and electric banjo. "Future Man" (Roy Wooten) plays synthaxe drumitar. Howard Levy has a list too long to type: diatonic harmonica, piano, synthesizers, harp in a cup, harp through a micro synth, double ocarina and Hammond B-3 organ. Victor Lemonte Wooten plays 4-string, 5-string fretless and 6-string electric basses. As soon as you read this list of instruments played, you know you are in for a real listening treat. You will not be disappointed. This band delivers!

The most interesting aspect of this collection is the way the music has an overall sense of urgency, yet there is an overwhelming feeling of an informal, relaxed jam session where each member of the band rotates in the lead with a different instrument. It is a fascinating thing to hear.

Another interesting note on this album is that the United States went to war with Iraq during the recording session. The band watched coverage on CNN between songs. On the spur of the moment, they recorded "The Star Spangled Banner." It was my favorite of the tunes in this set. You have never heard the national anthem done this way. It is too bad that they do not play this spectacular version at ballgames.

Other standout tracks include "Blu-Bop," with a full band sound and particularly outstanding keyboarding; "Flying Saucer Dudes," a beautiful tune in which the harmonica and synthesizer seem at times to be crying, at times to be laughing; "Star of the County Down," which begins with heavy drums and bass and a haunting mood before building into a happier sound; and "Hole in the Wall," which is rapid, crisp and, at times, frantic.

Throughout the album, there is a heavy emphasis on the bass and drums. There are rips and trills, harmony and rhythm changeups, off-key harmony and broken tempo backup, staccato and slurred notes, and a variety that ranges from blues to big band swing. One characteristic of this band that dominates throughout their work is a manipulation of the listenerŐs emotions through the use of crescendos and fadeouts. They utilize the crescendo effect extensively, making you feel this musical roller coaster.

These guys are impressive! They possess great talent and come together into a cohesive unit where no one overpowers the rest. This is not something that I would listen to every day, simply because I am hypersensitive to the mood of music. This rollercoaster of emotional urgency tends to make me feel anxious. But I do feel the money was well spent and I enjoyed it immensely. It is the perfect album to listen to when you need to be picked up and energized. I recommend it highly. You will not be disappointed.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 25 January 2003

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