In order for a band to progress, sometimes they need to strip down to the status quo and start from the beginning. Such is the case with the latest release by Bela Fleck and The Flecktones called Rocket Science, their first recording of original compositions since the 2006 album The Hidden Land. Not only did the band forgo many studio effects heard in more recent releases, but they also took a more organic approach by using mostly vintage instruments.
Yet the most defining aspect of this album is the return of original Flecktone and multi-instrumentalist Howard Levy to the fold. With the departure of long-standing member Jeff Coffin (now with The Dave Matthews Band), the opportunity arose for the rest of the group to welcome back Levy, who has not recorded with the band since the early ‘90s. Levy added his exceptional talents to the band’s 2009 tour, and soon after, the group decided it was time to renew the kinship and began recording. As Roy "Futureman" Wooten cleverly states, "There are people who don’t remember the very beginning of the Flecktones. It’s like people that started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and never got to meet Captain Kirk. So here we go, the original crew of the Enterprise coming together on a new mission".
The finished result is rooted in the familiar world-fusion sound of the Flecktones; however the addition of Levy’s harmonica and piano give this project an incredibly fresh feel. From the very beginning of the opening "Gravity Lane," where Bela’s signature strings are heard over Levy’s playful keys and harmonic tones, the uniqueness of this project becomes obvious.
Rocket Science definitely has more classic jazz and blues undertones thanks to Levy’s contributions. This is evident in such songs as the smoky "Prickly Pear," the piano-driven "Falling Forward," and the gorgeous Victor Wooten-penned ballad "Like Water," all of which showcase the magnificent chemistry of the band with Levy back in the mix. Those fans that prefer more of the world sound the Flecktones produce will be drawn to the beautifully upbeat Eastern European folk/dance song suite of "Joyful Spring" and "Life in Eleven," as well as Futureman’s ambient percussion track "The Secret Drawer".
Rocket Science proves that even the most subtle changes to a collective can produce an immensely different sound, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for Bela Fleck & the Flecktones. This is an exciting departure for a group that may have reached the ceiling in previous projects, and this is arguably their finest album since 2000’s Grammy-winning Outbound.
Rocket Science is out now on eOne Music.