Flight Of The Cosmic Hippo

Bela Fleck & The Flecktones

Warner Brothers Records, 1991


REVIEW BY: George Agnos


Somewhere between jazz and bluegrass lies the music that Bela Fleck & The Flecktones play. Fleck plays the banjo and sometimes the electric banjo giving the band that hoedown sound. Another member of the band named Future Man plays what is called a synthaxe drumitar (basically a drum set played like a guitar) giving the group a modern sound. Rounding out the band is Victor Lemonte Wooten on bass and Howard Levy on piano, synthesizers, organ, and harp among other instruments.

The band wastes no time on 1991's my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Flight Of The Cosmic Hippo showing off their jazzy chops on the opening number "Blu-Bop." This is a competent straight jazz number. I like the part in the middle where they slow the tempo down a bit; I wish that part was a little longer. On the next cut "Flying Saucer Dudes," Fleck delivers his first acoustic banjo solo and proves what a credible instrument it is for jazz. "Turtle Rock" is a fusion ditty that is likeable and boisterous.

Then the band really cooks with the title song. I think this is the best song of the set. This slow, bluesy number starts off with Fleck's controlled banjo playing over Wooten's lumbering bass lines. Wooten really shines on this track as his bass emulates the movements of a hippo. Levy's harp solo also is successful in emulating the hippo. This is very clever stuff.

The second half of the CD is where the bluegrass end of their sound really dominates. "Jekyll And Hyde (And Ted And Alice)" is a tour de force for Fleck as he picks through ever changing tempos. The unpredictable changes in this song make it a delight. "Hole In The Wall" is also unpredictable; it starts with a jazzy piano solo, but then the banjo comes in to shift genres midway through the song.

The rest of the songs are covers: "Star Of County Down" is a traditional song where the band manages to retain the quaintness of the song while at the same time giving it a modern flavor. Their take on "The Star Spangled Banner" is not as dynamic as the Jimi Hendrix version but is somewhat interesting nonetheless, and the Beatles "Michelle" gets a nice treatment from the band as well.

The Flecktones have a very interesting sound. They show a lot of promise on this release as their playing is above par. I think there are a few songs that are exceptional, but I would have liked to hear a little more feeling on some of the cuts rather than just technical proficiency. I'm sure that will come with maturity. However, there is not one bad song here and I recommend this very enjoyable album.


Rating: B+

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