Listen Up: Wednesday, February 15, 2006
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A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Bela Fleck & The Flecktones

The Hidden Land (Columbia)

By Tom Geddie

Bela Fleck grew up in New York City watching the Beverly Hillbillies on tv. Mesmerized by the theme song, he took up the banjo and eventually transformed people’s expectations of the instrument. His and his Flecktones’ new c.d., The Hidden Land, boils down to jazz, more than anything else, with bits of classical, Indian, and maybe even just a touch of the genre created by the banjo, bluegrass.

As an instrumental disc, some portions verge on Muzak, while others resemble a movie soundtrack. The rest seems capable of transporting listeners to that hidden land where, as Fleck has said in interviews, “people push the boundaries of music.” In this case, the boundaries that he and his Flecktones are pushing may be on an old map.

The musicianship is unquestionably superb, as expected from anybody with eight Grammys. Many of the songs bleed into one another, almost like movements of the same symphony, with little space in between.

There’s more to like here than to avoid, beginning with the c.d.’s only “cover” — a fugue for Bach’s Prelude & Fugue No. 20 in A minor, as interpreted in banjo, bass, and other non-classical instruments. Everything is played straightforwardly and in an uptempo manner. The drumming gets in the way only occasionally.

Playfulness mixes with contemplativeness nicely on The Hidden Land. “Chennai (Indian 5/4)” is a quiet, ominous meditation that eventually soars, while “Misunderstood” builds into an almost chaotic pleading. Tracks like “Weed Whacker” go nowhere in a hurry, and “The Whistle Tune” is a happy conclusion that’s somehow also nostalgic for the present. Kinda like Fleck himself.


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