Like They Never Left

Rocket Science (eOne Music Group)
Béla Fleck and the Flecktones

By Martin Z. Kasdan Jr.

How many of us were there for the debut of the then-unnamed Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, back in 1988 at the Kentucky Center's Lonesome Pine Specials series? We were the first to witness what would become one of the most popular improvisational ensembles of the past two decades.

Rocket Science features the return of original member Howard Levy on piano and harmonica, with Fleck on banjo, of course, along with the Wooten brothers, Victor Lemonte on bass and Roy "Futureman" on acoustic and synthesized drums and percussion. Longtime saxophonist Jeff Coffin has parted amicably, to tour with the Dave Matthews Band and his own Mu'tet.

"Gravity Lane" opens the disc with gently rolling banjo and chromatic harmonica, over tasty bass and drums, creating the joyous feeling that "it's like they never left." "Prickly Pear" and "Falani" both feature the blues side of Levy's harpwork, with Levy taking a rollicking ragtime piano break in the former and accenting Fleck's virtuosity in the latter.

"Falling Forward" sounds infectious and happy, while "Storm Warning" is not nearly as ominous as the title would suggest. Given the diverse influences which have characterized the band since its inception, including bluegrass, newgrass, blues, rock, and jazz, "Like Water" comes closest to pure jazz.

"Earthling Parade" begins eerily, conjuring up an image of earthlings "parading" sadly past some conquering alien entity; the mood alternates after that in a mini-suite. Futureman's "The Secret Drawer" is an all-too-short subtle percussion workout.

"Sweet Pomegranates" a fast waltz, keeps everyone o their toes, followed by "Falani" and closing with "Bottle Rocket," which is upbeat in both tempo and mood, to close this 64-minute disc on a suitably high note. Old fans, those drawn in during the years since the Flecktones' inauspicious Louisville maiden voyage, and new listeners alike will find much to enjoy here.

Want more info? Go to www.eonemusic.com.