Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Review (CD): Bela Fleck

Bela Fleck – The Bluegrass Sessions: Tales From the Acoustic Planet, volume 2.
Warner Brothers 47332.
Review written by Tom Wilmeth
August 3, 1999

Published in the November-December 1999 issue of No Depression.

Bela Fleck says that everything he plays is “colored by the bluegrass heartland.” This would seem a self-evident statement for a banjo player to make -- unless one knows much of Fleck’s music. Since the early 1990s he and his group The Flecktones have repeatedly taken the banjo to uncharted realms, from Chick Corea-inspired chord change exercises to performing pieces with the Boston Symphony.

For the new Bluegrass Sessions release, Fleck steps away from his talented electric sidemen to assemble his bluegrass “dream band.” And although subtitled Tales From the Acoustic Planet, volume 2, the music here is closer in spirit and style to Fleck’s fine Drive CD of 1987 than to volume one of the Acoustic Planet series. No matter by what title, the successful collaborations on Bluegrass Sessions include variety ranging from the refreshing atmosphere of an Alison Krauss CD to the excitement of Flatt & Scruggs in their prime. In fact, Earl Scruggs appears here on two numbers as a musical elder statesman.

It’s good to see that the impressive diversity displayed with The Flecktones has not diminished Bela’s love or ability for bluegrass. Among the players in his dream band are veterans Vassar Clements, Tony Rice, and Sam Bush. But in spite of high bluegrass pedigree, the ensemble does not strive to document the form as scholarly traditionalists. With a set list including “Polka on the Banjo” (sung by John Hartford) and “Major Honker,” one can see that Fleck is still interested in musical cross pollination and, equally important, that his sense of humor remains in tact.


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