This is a totally excellent album. Buy it! Regardless of whether you've never heard of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, or whether you are a long-time devotee, you'll find the music in this 2-CD live set to be unusually creative, diverse, and fresh. If you complain that so much of today's music sounds the same, you'll love this.
These performances were culled from hundreds of tapes made from live gigs from 1992 through 1996. The core unit is Bela Fleck on banjo, Victor Wooten on bass, and Future Man on the Synth-Axe Drumitar. There are some earlier recordings from when the group was a quartet, with Howard Levy on keyboards and harmonica. Later recordings feature the trio augmented with Paul McCandless on various woodwinds and Sam Bush on mandolin or fiddle. And several noteworthy guests grace the stage too, such as Branford Marsalis and Chick Corea. Just when you thought you had heard Chick in every possible context, here he is playing percussion on the Synth-Axe with Zendrum controllers on a rap song, and piano on the bluegrass tune "Cheeseballs in Cowtown."
The question most frequently asked of this band is, "What do you call your music, anyway?" to which they answer, "Blu-bop." But no answer is sufficient. These guys cover so many genres, and combine them in so many unique ways, there is truly no way to categorize this. Example: Bach's "Presto from Sonato #1 in G-minor for Unaccompanied Violin" (played as a banjo solo) segues right into "The Ballad of Jed Clampett." Their virtuosity is incredible, as is their musical empathy and interconnectedness as they navigate from one tricky passage to the next totally different one.
The most remarkable thing is that, as heavy and wide-ranging as this stuff is musically, it's all very listenable, enjoyable, and just plain fun. How could it be otherwise, with songs such as "Lochs of Dread," "Flying Saucer Dudes," "UFO Tofu," "The Sinister Minister," and of course, "Flight of the Cosmic Hippo."