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Bela Fleck and the Flecktones

Bela Fleck And The Flecktones - Greatest Hits Of The Twentieth Century – 1999 (Warner)

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

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CDs by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones

Banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck is one of those rare musicians whose playing renders genre, category, or easy description almost meaningless. With New Grass Revival, on solo recordings and with The Flecktones, Fleck strives for a standard of musicality more meaningful than just instrumental noodling.

As his first all-bluegrass album in a while, "The Bluegrass Sessions" is Fleck at his purest and most enjoyable. From the suitably bouncy, "Blue Mountain Hop," to the almost-concept piece, "Maura On A Bicycle, Stout And Molasses, Way Back When," Fleck and his band of equally adept players - Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Tony Rice,and Mark Schatz - are clearly not only good at what they do, they have a good time doing it.

The Flecktones are another vehicle altogether, with the avant-jazz wanderings of the combo allowing Fleck ample room to do whatever the heck he wants. Bassist Victor Wooten is a monster player who has released solo albums on his own, and the one called Future Man plays an instrument called a SynthAxe Drumitar - a combination of a synthesizer, drum machine and electric guitar. With other players like original member Howard Levy and newest 'Tone Jeff Coffin, the fleet-fingered pyrotechnics can get a bit dicey for all but the most fusion-minded jazz fans. Overall, the retrospective presented here is more than adequate for the casual fan of and draws the more interesting compositions from each album, including the Grammy-winning "The Sinister Minister."

Fleck is a multitalented musician with plenty to say, and these two albums neatly summarize the dual aspects of his musical personality.