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March 1997

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
Live Art
Warner Brothers

A live performance by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones is a celebration of the joy derived from making complex music that's fun at heart. Count on Roy Wooten, a.k.a. "Future Man" or "Futch," to come up with intriguing stuff on his synth-axe drumitar (it looks like a guitar but sounds like a percussion instrument). Victor Wooten, on bass, holds the groove while also poking around, keeping things entertaining. And then there's Béla, the man who pioneered a new role for the banjo, stretching well beyond this instrument's traditional bluegrass roots to ride full force into jazz, funk and a bunch of world music styles.

Live Art captures the best of all that and more. Assembled from shows performed 1992 through 1996, it features guest artists Paul McCandless, Branford Marsalis, and Chick Corea, plus gents who gigged with the band more frequently, to include Sam Bush on mandolin and fiddle, and Howard Levy playing keyboards and harmonica.

The two-disc set serves up a real romp, accurately capturing the intensity and exhilaration Béla inspires in whomever joins him on stage. It amply showcases the breadth of Béla and the Flecktones: "New South Africa" is a freewheeling whirl spinning off the bouncy beat of "Highlife," "Lochs of Dread" merges Scottish melodies with reggae, "Cheeseballs in Cowtown" gets into twangy country stuff. Eclectic with a capital "E," Live Art presents high-level virtuosity delivered with engaging exuberance.

Originally published in March 1997
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