I just received a copy of Rocket Science, the latest release from Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. I haven’t made it all the way through the disc just yet, but fans of the group’s previous releases will be right at home with this album.
Rocket Science marks the return of original Flecktone Howard Levy, who left the band in 1992. His piano and harmonica definitely are a noticeable (re)addition to the band’s sound, and they anchor the overall sound and provide it with a fullness missing on some thinner releases like Flight of the Cosmic Hippo, while keeping the band from soaring through vast soundscapes like they did on Live Art and Outbound.
Still, the sound is good and familiar. What struck me in the early listening was how apparent it was, perhaps for the first time (at least to this degree), that this is a jazz group. I never balked at their situation in the jazz racks at the local radio station, but listening to Rocket Science, it’s clear they belong there. Maybe it’s Levy’s piano, but more likely it’s the more cohesively rhythmic ensemble playing that populates the meat of these songs.
Longtime saxophonist Jeff Coffin– he was with the group from 1998 until he left in 2008 to fill in for Dave Matthews’ fallen parter LeRoi Moore– is missed, but like all of Fleck’s bands’ lineups, they constantly remind you of their diverse strengths, never letting you consider potential weaknesses. Looking at some full-album reviews, I and you can look forward to some masterful work by bass guitar master Victor Wooten in the later tracks, which isn’t surprising news, but it certainly is welcome.
I first saw the Flecktones in Michigan circa 1998, when they were opening for the band Coffin eventually would join, and I saw them on their own when I was in college in New York. Back in MI, I’m planning to catch them again tonight, when they’ll share an outdoor stage with Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers. It should be summertime sonic fun of the first degree, and I look forward to noting the results in the coming days.