Béla Fleck is often considered the premiere banjo player in the world. A New York City native (named after composer Béla Bartok), he picked up the banjo at age 15 after being awed by the bluegrass playing of Flatt & Scruggs. He began experimenting with playing bebop on the banjo in high school. In 1982, he joined the progressive bluegrass band New Grass Revival, where he made a name for himself in the country-bluegrass world. At the same time he was releasing a series of solo albums for Rounder Records.
In 1989 he formed the Flecktones. They made their self-titled debut recording in 1990 by playing a "blu-bop" mix of jazz and bluegrass and soon became a commercially successful, critically-acclaimed and award-winning band. (Fleck--the only musician to be nominated for Grammys in jazz, bluegrass, pop, country, spoken word, Christian, composition and world music categories-- also recorded solo releases including 1994’s Tales from the Acoustic Planet and last year’s The Bluegrass Sessions--Tales from the Acoustic Planet Volume 2.)
Steve Futterman, commenting on the Flecktones’ Left of Cool 1998 album in Entertainment Weekly: "Heavyweight players who make an endearing fusion, the Flecktones have a fine time roaming all over the musical map... it’s hard to resist a band that draws on bluegrass, funk, world music, pop and jazz with such glee and blissful lack of pretension."
Béla, commenting on the Flecktones’ "raging eclecticism" in the May 2000 issue of Down Beat: "The more diverse the audience there is, the better. If you’ve got people who would normally be jazz fans sitting in the same room with people who love bluegrass, some funk fans who love Victor, some Deadheads, it turns into this roomful of happy people who are all real different."
Béla began the new decade by inking a deal with Sony Music that will result in five recordings for the label: two albums for Sony Classical and three albums for Columbia Records: a solo outing for the jazz division of the imprint and two releases by his celebrated category-defying band the Flecktones.
Béla launches his association with Sony with the release of Outbound, the aptly-titled Flecktones Columbia CD which features the band performing with an all-star cast of guest artists including vocalists Shawn Colvin and Jon Anderson (of the group Yes), guitarist Adrian Belew, oboe player Paul McCandless, and keyboardist John Medeski (of the jazz jam-band Medeski, Martin & Wood). Like previous Flecktones albums from the past decade, the music on Outbound is a brilliant melange of styles--from bluegrass to jazz to world beat--that is often built around, as Fleck calls it, "the banjo being weird."
"These are new tunes, most of which we developed organically on the road," says the 41-year-old Fleck. "But we also put together some songs at the last minute in my Nashville studio during the recording process. Usually all the songs are ship-shape before we enter the studio. But for this album we made changes at the end that were for the good. That not only made for more fun but also more spontaneity in the sessions." As for the title of the CD, Outbound, Fleck says it perfectly reflects the current state of the Flecktones--founding members Victor Wooten on bass and Future Man on percussion/vocals and Synth-Axe Drumitar (his hybrid guitar/synth/drum machine invention) and virtuoso saxophonist Jeff Coffin. "There’s a sense of us going on a journey, a voyage, instead of a sense of completion. This album represents us--starting off on a new label and the band becoming even more expansive musically than it already was."