Josef Woodard
October 25, 1991 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Flight of the Cosmic Hippo

type
Music
Current Status
In Season
genre
Jazz

We gave it a B

Generally speaking, the banjo and jazz parted ways many decades back, but virtuosic banjoist Bela Fleck is almost single-handedly lobbying for reconciliation. Tweaking boundaries has long been Fleck’s wont, as he has shifted from bluegrass to spacegrass to swing-grass to his current ear-bending, genre-bending country-fusion (which echoes hillbilly rock-jazz band the Dixie Dregs). The Flecktones are a daringly different quartet, balanced between Fleck’s pointillist picking (on acoustic and electric banjos), Howard Levy’s masterful harmonica and piano playing, and the foundation of pop ‘n’ slap bassist Lemonte Victor Wooten and electronic drummer ”Future Man.” The campy slowpoke lope of the title tune has a ’30s cabaret air. On other tunes of Flight of the Cosmic Hippo, the Flecktones give an eccentric, waltzy spin to the Beatles’ ”Michelle” and gamely blend bluegrass with a samba rhythm on ”The Star-Spangled Banner.” Sometimes, cuteness or overarranging sullies the material, and a strident rhythm section tramples on Fleck’s lovely, fancy fingerwork on ”Hole in the Wall.” All in all, though, the Flecktones are an anomaly you can’t help but admire. B

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