Cover Act 

No one has ever written a song about being on the cover of Down Beat, but for Nashville banjoist Béla Fleck and his eclectic quartet The Flecktones, recognition by the oldest and most conservative jazz magazine marks a watershed in the group’s 15-year career. Down Beat has reviewed Flecktones albums over the years, albeit with mixed judgments, and Fleck routinely finishes high in the “Miscellaneous Instrument” category of the publication’s annual polls, where electric bassist Victor Wooten also makes a respectable showing in his category. But despite the magazine’s subtitle, “Jazz, Blues and Beyond” (often in very fine print), veteran readers know that it can take quite some time for the editorial board to reach “beyond.” In this case, what has otherwise been beyond the pale of that tradition-leaning mind-set is a rather indefinable, technically sophisticated, yet melody- and riff-friendly convergence of contemporary bluegrass, folk, jazz, funk, exotica and some distant, lightly eccentric relatives of chamber music.

While traveling between gigs with local bassist Edgar Meyer a couple weeks ago, Fleck said that he hadn’t yet had a chance to read the interview in the October issue of Down Beat. Nonetheless, he sees it as a sign of his band’s increasingly respected body of work, including their ambitious new three-CD set of studio originals, Little Worlds. As the interview points out, Fleck spends much of his non-touring time in his basement studio mastering and remixing the band’s tracks. If this means that he must spend a typical day at home reworking, retaping and then inviting the rest of the band over to judge one of his solos, Fleck and his perfectionism—always within the larger frame of his group’s many-voiced dialogue—have gained the endorsement of at least one major jazz arbiter.

—Bill Levine


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