Béla Fleck & The Flecktones
The Hidden Land [DualDisc]
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2006, Volume 13, #4
Written by John Metzger
In the midst of its year-long hiatus from touring, The Flecktones reconvened at leader Béla Fleck’s home studio in Nashville to begin work on The Hidden Land. Coming after the sprawling, overly ambitious Little Worlds, the resulting album is a welcome return to form for the group. The Hidden Land boasts no distracting special guests, and containing a mere 13-tracks, it undeniably is a more focused affair that largely sounds as if Pat Metheny and Dave Brubeck had collaborated on a bluegrass project. At first glance, however, there also isn’t anything featured on the set that will convince naysayers to pay attention.
Perhaps, that’s the reason that The Hidden Land is also available as a DualDisc collection, though whether casual fans will shell over a few extra dollars to purchase the outing in this format is questionable. Still, its crafty surround sound mix not only enhances the drama that is inherent within The Flecktones’ material, but it also more sharply defines the colors and textures of the ensemble’s instrumental interplay. The percussion pops; the flute, sax, and whistles flutter and dance; the banjo twirls; and the bass twists, turns, bubbles, and bursts. In beginning with a pair of fugues by Bach, the orchestral overtones of the collective’s arrangements are drawn into the spotlight. The sound is crisp and clean, though it also is presented from a flat perspective. However, as the music tumbles into the swirling bebop of P’lod in the House, the sonic spectrum widens considerably, fully revealing the lush atmospherics conjured by the band.
Throughout The Hidden Land, Béla Fleck & The Flecktones employs an assortment of odd time signatures, but by combining polyrhythmic percussion, hypnotic banjo, soaring woodwinds, and driving bass, the group effortlessly traverses the complexity of its material. Waltzing through a whirlwind of jazz, classical, bluegrass, rock, country, and world grooves — frequently within the same song — the band allows the mesmerizing intricacies of its compositions to blossom organically. A short documentary titled Bring It Home highlights the ensemble’s playful relationship, though it more importantly demonstrates how a little time spent apart sometimes can bring a collective a whole lot closer together. ½
49th Annual Grammy Award Winner:
Best Contemporary Jazz Album
The Hidden Land is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box