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It was telling that Sony saw fit to precede this release with a sampler entitled Ten From Little Worlds. For this album is a daunting prospect for even the most hardened of Flecktone groupies. Three CDs spanning a whole world of jazz-inflected madness abound herein and, while not indigestible in small chunks, this could prove hard to stomach over its entirety.
Like a distant cousin to Scandinavian jazz oddballs Farmers Market (with polymath accordionist Stian Carstensen at the helm) it's Fleck himself whose magpie tendencies can both dazzle and infuriate. He's hardly established a mood when he's off again, wrapping numbers up in astounding dexterity that's undeniably impressive, yet doesn't make for a complete listening experience. Maybe at the heart of this there's an insecurity about his chosen instrument; as if to say: 'look, I'm a master of the banjo but it's not just for bluegrass, you know. It can be respectable too...'
In the extensive sleeve notes telling the tale of the albums genesis, Fleck says that the band set out to make a stripped-back collection recorded at their makeshift home studio in Nashville. No such luck unfortunately, as a whole world of star guests came along for the ride. As to be expected said guests -including bluegrass wunderkinds Nickel Creek, the Chieftains' Paddy Maloney, theremin genius Pamelia Kurstin, Bobby McFerrin and Branford Marsalis - all belong to a sphere labelled 'maestro' and, as such, add a panoply of textures and moods to the work. However, yet again it all serves to confuse rather than delight.
Examples are numerous but for arguments sake take disc 2. "Sherpa" (featuring Marsalis) is all skewed, quirky reggae, "What Is It" - featuring Bobby McFerrin - is the usual happy-go-lucky, quirky stuff we expect from Bobby, and Poindexter (with Dobro genius Jerry Douglas) is just, well, quirky. The last example is telling. Jerry Douglas has forged a path out of straight bluegrass towards more diverse territory, especially on his recent album Lookout For Love. But that was one, more focussed disc of jazz-inflected wonders. Fleck's proved his boundary-busting credentials beyond a shadow of a doubt. Now he just needs to learn that, in this case, less would definitely have been more.