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Traditional Jazz & New Orleans - Released June 7, 1991 | Warner Records

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Traditional Jazz & New Orleans - Released August 7, 1992 | Warner Records

Though the Flecktones didn't change their formula with their third album, UFO Tofu, they did manage to craft one of their more consistent and impressive efforts. The band's fusion of jazz, bluegrass, and funk gels quite well on UFO Tofu -- not only does Béla Fleck turn in a rich, eclectic performance, but pianist Howard Levy's deft lines and inventive phrasing dominate the album. Occasionally, the material is lightweight, functioning only as vehicle for the group's solos. Then again, the whole point of Fleck's music is the solos, so that shouldn't upset his fans too much. Of course, it doesn't help him win new ones, either. © Thom Owens /TiVo
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Traditional Jazz & New Orleans - Released November 5, 1999 | Warner Records

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Traditional Jazz & New Orleans - Released April 7, 1995 | Warner Records

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Country - Released December 23, 2008 | Warner Records

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Traditional Jazz & New Orleans - Released May 29, 1998 | Warner Records

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Jazz - Released May 17, 2011 | eOne Music

One would be forgiven for thinking that the reunion of the Flecktones' original lineup for Rocket Science was a nostalgic one, but that's not what happened. Howard Levy left the band back in 1992, leaving Béla Fleck, Victor Wooten, and Roy "Future Man" Wooten as a trio for six years before saxophonist Jeff Coffin came aboard in 1998. The Flecktones -- in trio and quartet formations -- continued to expand upon the various possibilities that established them early on, releasing recordings and touring the world over. Each member also developed a solo persona, performing and collaborating with other musicians, ultimately bringing his experiences back to the Flecktones. When Coffin left to join the Dave Matthews Band in 2008 in the wake of saxophonist LeRoi Moore's death, it opened the door for Levy to reconnect with his old bandmates. With Levy on harmonica and piano, it's as if he never left. Rather than try to re-create the band's old sound, the Flecktones push ever further into their own seamless, unclassifiable meld of jazz, progressive bluegrass, rock, classical, funk, and world music traditions on this delightful -- and at times mind-blowing -- record. Things kick off on a sparkling yet nearly pastoral note with "Gravity Lane," as Fleck's banjo, Levy's piano, and Victor Wooten's bass engage in some lovely interplay. When Future Man Wooten's drumitar kicks in on a series of skittering breaks, the entire playing level opens to the stratosphere. "Life in Eleven" begins as a harmonica jam before the banjo enters in breakdown style. Blues and bluegrass meet in the realm of syncopated funk. "Falani" features one of the finer Wooten bass solos on the record and allows Fleck and Levy to engage in sharp contrapuntal exchanges in the background. The rich Middle Eastern modes and melodies in "Sweet Pomegranates" is one of the most provocative and satisfying things on a disc full of more ideas than the listener can count. "Like Water" is the true pastoral jam on the disc, with the Flecktones at their most laid-back and grooving before carrying it all out on the careening, sprightly "Bottle Rocket." Rocket Science fires on all cylinders and comes off as a fresh and exciting reintroduction to a newly energized Flecktones. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released August 12, 2003 | Columbia - Legacy

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Traditional Jazz & New Orleans - Released September 6, 1996 | Warner Records

Live Art is a double-disc, 20-track anthology of live performances by Béla Fleck & the Flecktones, spanning four years in the mid-'90s. The song selections cover the group's entire career, ranging from new arrangements of several of classics to covers and seven previously unrecorded originals. There are a couple of vocals on the record, but the core of the album is Fleck & the Flecktones' dynamite instrumental improvisations, where they can demonstrate the true range of their eclecticism and talent. Of special note are the songs that feature jams with Branford Marsalis, Chick Corea, and Bruce Hornsby, who help spur the Flecktones to new heights. © Thom Owens /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 22, 2002 | Columbia

Anyone who saw the Flecktones in their early days probably told you that it was an amazing experience, and a big part of that praise undoubtedly focused on the group's improvised jams. With Victor Wooten sometimes playing two basses simultaneously and Fleck wandering through the audience picking cosmic banjo lines, their shows were spectacles to be enjoyed for the simple thrill of hearing virtuosos play music that was mind-boggling but somehow utterly accessible. It's sad, then, that the group's live albums, while preserving the energy, have never quite captured the humor of those early shows. Many fans could relay stories of Fleck and Wooten's astounding call-and-response duels, which could incorporate anything from Tchaikovsky to full-throttle bluegrass breakdowns. The rapport was hilarious, and it endeared people to a group who might otherwise go down as whimsical showoffs. However, while the old shows may be legendary, the new ones aren't bad either, and the above isn't meant to say that Live at the Quick is a bad album; actually, there's plenty of stuff that Flecktones fans love, including Wooten's now-trademark arrangement of "Amazing Grace" and a Bach "Prelude" from Fleck's classical music projects. The concert was recorded with the Flecktone Big Band and features guest appearances from Paul McCandless, Andy Narell, Paul Hansen, tabla player Sandip Burman, and Tuvan throat singer Congar ol'Ondar. All that makes Live at the Quick the band's most diverse record yet, and fans of Fleck's post-Acoustic Planet work will be amply rewarded. © Jim Smith /TiVo
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Traditional Jazz & New Orleans - Released February 16, 2010 | Warner Records - Nashville

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Ambient/New Age - Released September 30, 2008 | Rounder

Grammy-winning banjo "fusionist" Béla Fleck and his Flecktones may be the most qualified collective to inject some life into the notoriously monotonous "holiday music" scene, and Jingle All the Way (one would think that an innovator like Fleck could come up with a more creative "Christmas" album title, or at least one that doesn't directly reference a 1996 Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy), doesn't disappoint. All of the standards are here ("Sleigh Ride," "Silent Night," "Twelve Days of Christmas"), but they're filtered through the skewed prism of an outfit capable of just about anything from klezmer, to classical to Tuvan throat singing -- the latter is provided by the internationally acclaimed Alash Ensemble. It's not all wacky though, as Fleck, Victor Wooten, Jeff Coffin, and Future Man prove reverent when needed, especially on a cover of Joni Mitchell's "River" and the Vince Guaraldi classics "Linus and Lucy" and "Christmas Time Is Here." Jingle All the Way, despite its groaner of a title and questionable "frontman in Santa hat with eggnog" photo, is anything but predictable. © James Christopher Monger /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 8, 2006 | Columbia - Legacy

Nearly three years since the outrageous exercise in self-indulgence that was the three-disc Little Worlds, Béla Fleck & the Flecktones come back to the marketplace with The Hidden Land. The former outing was so excessive that Sony issued a single-disc sampler from the set hoping it would sell. Thankfully, the new set is a single disc, and for fans of the band there is plenty here to delight. The fusion of instrumental musics here -- jazz, bluegrass, funk, classical, and some global sounds is called by Fleck "serious Flecktones." It feels serious. For starters, the quartet dig into Bach's Preludes and Fugues (No. 20 in A Minor) to kick things off. It's a classic piece of the Flecktones wearing the original enough to make it their own. It's entertaining only for the sound of Fleck's 1937 Gibson Mastertone banjo. Much more compelling is "Labyrinth," a winding, knotty journey through jazz and improvisation -- the funk undertones of the piece are carried by Victor Wooten's gnarly bass line. But even here, Future Man's "Synth-Axe Drumitar" and his vocals -- poorly aping Naná Vasconcelos' glorious wordless singing from Pat Metheny's earlier recordings -- are more than what's really necessary. What moves this cut is Jeff Coffin's wondrous tenor playing. "Kaleidoscope"'s knotty blend of bluegrass riffing between Fleck and Coffin is stomping and beautiful, though it gets bogged down in fusiony nonsense on the choruses. But the moving playing in the bridge between the aforementioned pair over the skittering acoustic drums and programmed Drumitar keeps it grounded even when the piece becomes more abstract toward the end. The lyrical abstraction on the ballad "Who's Got Three" is amorphous but eerie and beautiful. It slips directly into the nearly straight-ahead swinging jazz of the horribly titled "Weed Whacker." The musical ideas here are, as usual, endless, which doesn't make it a great record. There are simply so many things vying for attention, seeking to make themselves known here, that a few less would have made individual compositions stand out more. The wandering, perhaps meandering, minor-key Middle Eastern flavor of "Chennai" works well because it's not cluttered and has distinctly different phases. The funky "Subterfuge" is just plain boring, and "Misunderstood" is just a mess, a mishmash of half-baked ideas couched in a ballad. As the "Whistle Tune," closes the album with Fleck just wrangling his Celtic-styled banjo playing transcendentally with Coffin's whistles and Wooten's pared bassing atop a simple drum track, we are rooted once more into the basis of the Flecktones' musical universes, not their metaverse. It's not that complexity and a multiplicity of ideas is a bad thing; quite the opposite, but knowing when to reign them in and make the music sing is another thing. This record sings only in a couple of places. The rest is "serious Flecktones." Perhaps this determination is simply not for most of us. It's easy to accept that, especially when those serious Flecktones fans will be debating individual musical passages until the next album is released. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released July 18, 2000 | Columbia

After a decade with Warner Bros., Béla Fleck jumped to Sony's Columbia Records, signing a five-record deal that called for two releases on Sony Classical, a solo album, and two discs with his band the Flecktones of which Outbound is the first. It is a typically eclectic effort. For example, the Fleck original "Shuba Yatra" (its title, he explains in the press materials, "is an Indian term that means taking a journey with a safe return") features a tabla player and Fleck on a "sitar banjo," an electrified instrument with a banjo head and a sitar bridge. Such instruments give the tune something of an Indian flavor, except that much of it is borrowed from traditional Irish music with a touch of South African rhythm. Such odd juxtapositions of instrumentation and style are typical not only from track to track but also within tracks. Fleck and his bandmates seem to view all styles of music as readily and randomly interchangeable, but sometimes, as with a colorblind person picking out clothes, the results clash or otherwise disturb, and the rest of the time they come off as flashy and insubstantial. Fleck really offers no defense to the charge of being a musical dilettante, he simply celebrates the surface pleasures of different varieties of music, offering an overlapping series of appetizers. A fan of any particular style is liable to feel that it has been trivialized, but Fleck doesn't mean any harm. His music represents the pursuit of facileness as a musical goal, one that he and his band achieve with alacrity. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Jazz - Released October 27, 2003 | Columbia