Singer and multi-instrumentalist Robert Berry is a prime mover on Magna Cartas series of tribute albums, and here you can hear his versions of Yess Roundabout, Karn Evil 9 by ELP, Pink Floyds Brain Damage, even Ambrosias Life Beyond LA. Problem is, despite his brilliant mimicry of these and other famous prog artists, you dont really hear enough of Berry. He plays everything, from drums to bass to guitar and keyboards, he sings, and produces. He even made a fun Christmas album where he used his one-man band approach to update holiday fare in the styles of King Crimson, Kansas, and others. Hes got the tools, as his previous solo discs and stints in the Three alongside Emerson and Palmer and in post-David Pack Ambrosia demonstrate, but Prime Cuts is just an excuse to hear him sound like his inspirations. Great fun though . . .
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones The Hidden Land (Columbia)
Jazzs preeminent banjoist okay, pretty much jazzs only banjoist returns more than three years after his groups last album, and The Hidden Land is one of its strongest efforts. The Flecktones rearrange and reimagine Bachs Fugue, while Plod in the House is fairly straightahead jazz. Jeff Coffin gets most of the lead lines here, alternating among sax, flute, even clarinet, so much so that you start to long for Fleck to essay a foggy mountain breakdown. That doesnt happen till Weed Whacker, and then Fleck follows his solo with some comping on wah-wah banjo. Labyrinth has a bluesy, call-and-response feel as Fleck and Coffin trade the melody, before Victor Wooten steps out for a typically audacious bass solo, while his brother, Future Man, serves as drummer for the band through a variety of percussive sounds. Its obvious there is no one else out there who sounds like the Flecktones.
Duke Robillard Guitar Groove-A-Rama (Stony Plain Records)
Guitarist Duke Robillard formed the acclaimed Roomful of Blues at the tender age of 17 and later replaced Jimmie Vaughan in the Fabulous Thunderbirds. His solo career has encapsulated numerous blues styles, and as the title suggests, he romps through many of them here. The titles often tell the tale: Do the Memphis Grind, Gambler Blues, Ill Do Anything But Work show Robillard as a canny, soulful guitarist (and occasionally a singer of distinction as well). Sunday Morning has quotes from Im In The Money, along with soulful lines from Doug James on bari sax. Robillard plays it straight on Danny Boy before doubling the pace halfway through, allowing him to bend a few notes. The 16-minute Blues-A-Rama allows Robillard to stretch out as he emulates the styles of several of his influences and favorite players, from Johnny Guitar Watson to Lowell Fulsom and Freddie, B.B. and Albert King, among others. All told, this is one groovy disc.
Incognito Eleven (Narada Jazz)
Jean-Paul Bluey Maunicks latest brings together his sense of funky melody, his ultra-tight band, and great vocals from Maysa Leak, Tony Momrelle and others. Incognito has always brought together 70s funk and soul, colorful vocals, and snazzy horns, with an acid-jazz beat, and Eleven is no exception. Come Away With Me melds an urgent melody with percussion, keyboard breaks and a shouting horn section, the beat driving the song ahead while Maysas effortless vocals keep pace. When Tomorrow Brings You Down is a tale of heartbreak so soulful you almost cant wait for it to happen. The second half of the album starts to drag, however, as Show Me Love gets repetitive, and Ill Get By suffers from a desultory melody line. The concluding cuts get Bluey and band back on track, though, making Eleven enjoyable if not among the bands best.