"Live Art" is the long awaited live album from the
Flecktones. Long awaited by whom, you might ask?
Well, anyone who has ever heard them live, for a start.
Compare "Live Art" with the slick and mellow
"Tales from the Acoustic Planet."
and you'll see my point exactly.
The beauty of this live double album is apparent in the very first
piece, "New South Africa," a beautiful,
hopping tune, the equivalent of aural sunshine.
The second tune (track 3 on the CD, track 1 being a brief
'pre-show chatter' track) is
"Stomping Grounds," a tune the Flecktones have been doing
live for a while but have only recorded for the first time here.
"Stomping Grounds" is my personal
favorite Flecktone tune for about 6,000 reasons. You cannot
sit still while listening to this song. Consisting of three
melody components, every segment of this song will keep your
feet tapping and your head bopping. Musically, "Stomping
Grounds" is a playground, and always contains a section in
the middle where the musicians just go at it,
improvising from here to there. During a show, don't be surprised
to hear anything from Bach to the theme from "Gilligan's
Island" stuck in there. For the album, Bela -- who produced,
edited and mixed the CD himself -- either found a performance
of the song where the improvisation was very short and restrained,
or he conducted a sweet bit of editing to bring the song down to a more
albumesque five and a half minute length, rather than the typical
10 or more. The album version features Paul McCandless on the
soprano sax and Sam Bush on the mandolin, making this for me the ideal rendition
of an always-changing song.
The fun is just starting with track 4.
"Lochs of Dread" was originally recorded by a band called
Strength in Numbers, which Bela was in. And though that
first version is excellent (it's impossible for this song
not to be fun), it just doesn't compare to the Flecktones'
rendition. Bela, Victor, and Futureman kick the hell out of
this song, with help from Paul on an extremely cool
bass clarinet and Sam again with the mando.
Did I mention this was a long album? The two CDs are
an hour a piece, 10 songs each. At about $20 for the two, this
is a lot of bang for your musical buck. And, with the musical
diversity of the two CDs, you can listen to it over and over and
over without getting bored or burned out. I've tested this theory personally.
"Big Foot" is great, for the liner
notes alone. Sam plays fiddle in this version, making me VERY HAPPY because, frankly, Sam rocks. "Far East Medley"
is beautiful and harmonious, reminiscent of drinking green tea
on a calm day. "Flying Saucer Dudes" and "UFO Tofu" will give you
some idea as to why this album, as with most of the Flecktone's
albums, is considered "Contemporary Jazz."
For those of you unfamiliar with the Flecktones, Bela plays
acoustic and electric banjo, Victor Lemonte Wooten plays the
bass guitar, and Futureman is the percussionist. Note I did
not say "drummer." It's a rare day you'll see a drum set on a Flecktone's
stage. Futureman plays the synthax drumitar, an extremely cool
bit of technology he came up with himself that lets him be 5
drummers all at once. To watch him play you wouldn't think he
was doing much at all; it's only when he stops that you realize how amazing
what he's been doing really is.
Futureman ('Futch' for short) also plays a zendrum, basically an
instrumented board with samples. Every show, Futureman gets a
chance to do his stuff. I'm not sure if he makes it up as he
goes or if he carefully plans each piece, but it's different every
show. The selection chosen for "Live Art" is one of his best (of
course), IMHO. If Futureman ever makes an album of his own, it's
going to kick the Rave/Ambient scene on its ass.
The last two songs on the first CD, and the first on the second,
highlight the not-inconsiderable talents of Victor,
the single most amazing bass player on the planet. Ah, I see
doubt on your face, grasshopper. Go see them play and doubt no
more. "Vix 9" is a jazzy piece that Victor wrote. "The Message"
is a lot of fun, and features Victor rapping. The first track
on the second CD begins with Victor improvising a little on the
bass, demonstrating some of his superhuman technical skill with
the instrument. He then leads into his signature version of
"Amazing Grace," which is probably my favorite rendition of this
gospel standard. Victor manages to get some crazy harmonics out
of the bass which will leave you convinced there had to be more
than one person playing.
"Shubbee's Doobie" is a nice little song, a bit countrified, even reminiscent
of early Doobie Brothers songs.
This could be the power of suggestion. The third track on the
second CD is a nice little rendition of "Oh Darling"
with Bela picking it on the electric banjo. John Cowan sings
on this one, and though he is lauded near and far as an exceptional
singer with a wonderful voice, well, his singing has always given
me the willies. Still, this is a nice version of the song.
According to the liner notes, "Sunset Road" almost made it
into a movie, then didn't, then the movie was a miserable
failure, and serves them right, too. This is a great song,
and it's sad that we never hear the lyrics Futureman
wrote for it. The reason for this is, mainly, that Futureman is
a great singer. You get a *tiny* taste of this on track 6,
"More Luv" written by Victor, which is another favorite of mine.
Every Flecktone show features Bela sitting with his acoustic
and just noodling. A great sample of this is given on track 7.
Bela takes us through some of his early stuff, some improv, to
Bach, then right on to the banjo-mandatory "Ballad of Jed
Clampett." It's fun to watch an audience's realization:
"oh NO, he's playing the theme from the Beverly
Hillbillies!" It's obvious Bela gets a kick out of this.
The album wraps up with three Flecktone standards, "Cheeseballs
in Cowtown," "The Sinister Minister," and "Flight of the
Cosmic Hippo." Cheeseballs is a fun, very bluegrassy song,
written while Bela was vacationing/touring with Tony Trischka
in New Zealand. Minister was made into the
only Flecktone video ever made. I, personally, have never
really cared for this song, but I have to admit the version
selected for this album is really good.
You always get one encore song at a Flecktone show. One. And
only one. It's the Flecktone equivalent of the 15% tip. You
have to be a really really bad audience to not get one (I think
the only time they didn't do an encore song that I've seen is
at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, but my memory of that event
could be blurry). And I'm not sure what you'd have to do to get
TWO encore songs, I hear it happens, but I'm yet to experience
it. The encore song on "Live Art" is "Flight of the Cosmic
Hippo." The track starts off with Bela getting a little audience
participation going, which gets a little old after you've listened
to the album 17,000 times. But the flight itself is well worth
it. This is a fine and worthy song to end such a fantastic
Go buy it. Christmas is coming, buy a couple of copies, give
them to all your friends and family members. This album will
appeal to everyone. You really can't go wrong.