Saturday, November 26, 2011

November 26: Béla Fleck & The Flecktones, "The Sinister Minister"

Artist: Béla Fleck & The Flecktones
Song: "The Sinister Minister"
Album: Béla Fleck & The Flecktones
Year: 1990

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Though it is a rare occurrence, when an artist is able to bring a non-tradiational instrument in as the lead sound in any form of music, the results are almost always worth hearing.  If the artist in question is also a brilliant composer, and has an unparalleled understanding of countless forms of music, the sounds they create will quickly gain widespread accolades and attention.  Of course, if that artist is also able to surround themselves with musicians of equal or greater talent, the group in question will certainly take on a musical definition all their own, and this is exactly the case with Béla Fleck & The Flecktones.  For the better part of three decades, the group has been recording and releasing some of the most uniquely amazing music in all of history, an yet few can argue that there is another group in history that has remained as musically undefinable.  Incorporating everything from electronica to jazz to classical to bluegrass to funk and countless other genres in their music, Béla Fleck & The Flecktones manage to continually reinvent themselves, whilst keeping a core sound that one must experience firsthand to properly appreciate.  Due to their extensive recorded catalog, as well as the unrivaled level of musicianship within the band members, it is impossible to point to a single song as their "best," and yet one can understand why so many hold Béla Fleck & The Flecktones in such hugh regard by hearing their phenomenal 1990 song, "The Sinister Minister."

Few will argue that among every band from every genre of the past thirty years, that there are many, if any, that can even remotely compare to the talent of the rhythm section of The Flecktones.  Furthermore, there are very few bassists from any point in history that can rival the talent and creativity of Victor Wooten, and it is his brilliant playing that kicks off "The Sinister Minister."  It is the unique way that Victor Wooten is able to create so much emotion and feeling with an almost minimalist musical approach that makes his sound so distinctive, and it is also the fact that he seems to be simultaneously pulling from multiple "schools" of bass theory.  Though he brings a funky groove that is far beyond that of any of his peers, it is the way that he creates jazz-like solos throughout "The Sinister Minister," enabling his bassline to become far more than "just" an interpretation of the rhythm.  Yet it is also the way that his sound interacts with that of The Flecktones' "drummer," his brother, Roy "Future Man" Wooten."  The sound of the drums all across the catalog of Béla Fleck & The Flecktones are completely distinctive, and this is due to the fact that Future Man plays a custom "synth-axe/drumitar," allowing for the rhythms and tempos to expand in an almost infinite level.  Yet it is the smooth, almost hypnotic mood that Future Man lays under each song which makes them all the more intriguing, and this completely unique sound only adds to the overall undefinable appeal of Béla Fleck & The Flecktones.

However, the other two musicians that comprise Béla Fleck & The Flecktones are without question equally as important and as talented as the rhythm section, and it is the fact that there is so much skill and passion within the playing that vaults "The Sinister Minister" so such heights.  Handling a number of different instruments on the track, it is the harmonica from Howard Levy that stands out the most on this song.  The way that he slides around the other instruments lends an almost blues-like feel to "The Sinister Minster," and yet it also serves as the ideal balance between the deep bass groove from Wooten and the higher-octave brilliance of the groups' namesake.  Few can argue that there is any other living banjo player that even comes close to the sheer talent of Béla Fleck, and yet it is his endless creativity that has given the instrument an appeal far beyond that of the almost stereotypical audiences one might assume.  Both in speed and feeling, his performance all across "The Sinister Minister" is one of his finest, as he shows the impact he can create from brilliantly constructed finger-picked progressions just as much as the more melodic, chord based moments.  It is this diversity in ability, as well as the outright unique sound that the banjo creates that makes "The Sinister Minster" so fantastic, as well as defining the wonderfully distinctive arrangements that make up the groups' recorded catalog.

Truth be told, if one were to attempt to "force" Béla Fleck & The Flecktones into any category, perhaps the most understandable would be that of jazz, as the group is more than willing to "take turns" and let the other members have their time to solo.  It is this unselfish approach that leads to all of the songs from Béla Fleck & The Flecktones becoming so fantastic, and yet it is the seamless manner with which the lead is passed throughout "The Sinister Minister" that sets it further apart from the rest of the bands' catalog.  In fact, it would be a live recording of this song that would garner the group a Grammy Award in 1997 for "Best Pop Instrumental Performance."  When one considers that Béla Fleck & The Flecktones were given any award containing the term "pop" almost forces the fact that in the end, the compositions that the group creates have an appeal that creates its own boundaries, as opposed to pushing through any that had been previously put into place.  That is to say, regardless of ones' personal musical preference, it is the absolutely individual sound and approach that one can find within the music of Béla Fleck & The Flecktones that allows them to pull legions of fans from across the musical spectrum, and this in turn is why one can find so much diversity within their music.  While there is rarely an "off" moment on any of their albums, one can easily argue that Béla Fleck & The Flecktones have rarely sounded better than what one can hear on their 1990 song, "The Sinister Minister."

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