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November 2000

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
Outbound
Columbia Jazz

Another consistently interesting, groundbreaking voice is banjo-wielding Bela Fleck, who with the Flecktones captures swamp tones, classical romance, electric rock, bebop and everything in-between on the fascinating Outbound (Columbia CSK 12925; 60:03). Part of the magic of Fleck's work is that you can never quite figure out where he's going, but the trip includes familiar voices and themes-both comforting and disturbing. On "Hall of Mirrors," for example, Fleck's banjo revolves in resonant clustered licks, while a blurbing bass gives the feel of bobbing on the water. Soprano sax, lithe vocalese and some searing guitar work add mystery at every turn until you're literally lost in the music. "Something She Said" sets an undertone of darkness beneath its acoustic romantic feel, adding Adrian Belew's electric guitar as counterpoint to softly weaving saxophone. The Flecktones are still among the tightest bands around, using dynamics to masterful effect, and showcasing dazzling technique on tunes like a frenetic, electric-layered reworking of Copland's classic "Hoedown," and the Middle Eastern-tinged "A Moment So Close," which features guests Shawn Colvin and Yes' Jon Anderson on haunting vocals. Nothing is ever straightforward in the world of Bela Fleck, but it's always an interesting and rewarding trip.

Originally published in November 2000
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