Tune in for new CDs from Bela to Booker
Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, “Rocket Science” produced by Fleck (E One)After nearly two decades, banjoist Bela Fleck has re-assembled the original Flecktones lineup. Saxophonist Jeff Coffin, who has been the fourth wheel since the late ’90s, is out (don’t weep for him; he’s now part of the Dave Matthews Band), and returning is original Flecktone Howard Levy, with his unusual instrumental combination of piano and harmonica. Intact is the rhythm section of bassist Victor Wooten, and his brother, Roy “Future Man” Wooten, on the electronic drum device he calls a synthax drumitar.Fleck has said that the original lineup is what the Flecktones was originally meant to be, and you can see what he means with “Rocket Science,” and all-instrumental album with no guest players. The Flecktones, as masterful as they have been, had become somewhat predictable in their approach to jazz-fusion. Here, they bust out of any boxes they had built around themselves. “Prickly Pear” is a fine example, as Levy adds big splashes of the blues, old New Orleans and more. The essence of experimentation is likewise evident on “Sweet Pomegranates,” which touches on Fleck’s interest in classical composition, and features more innovative thinking by Levy.Booker T. Jones, “The Road From Memphis” produced by Jones, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Rob Schnapf (Anti-)When Katrina devastated New Orleans, the community of local musicians responded with benefit concerts and a voice to help lead the way to recovery.Organist Booker T. Jones seems to have gone one better; he seems to have anticipated the need for music in his hometown of Memphis, after the recent floods. Somehow, Jones – a Memphis native whose past band, the M.G.s, took its name from “Memphis Group” – knew the city would need something good right about now, and timed his new release, a direct celebration of Memphis, for May 10.”The Road From Memphis” is just what the doctor ordered. The 66-year-old soul master is in a prime groove here, cranking out greasy soul with touches of the old and new. Best of all, this one aims right at the heart of the city. Jones adds his voice (a fairly rare event) to “Down in Memphis,” a touching tribute that hits all the emotional colors; sweeter in tone is “Representing Memphis,” with Sharon Jones and Matt Berninger handling the vocals. Other guest singers include Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Lou Reed on the album closer, “The Bronx.”
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Are we seeing more bears because there are more bears on the valley floor, or because we’re all spending more time at home? It could be a bit of both.