Bela Fleck

'Little' Big Man

Fleck"I was gonna make an eight-disc set, but Sony cut me down," banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck jokes of the triple-disc "Little Worlds," due this week from Columbia. The 27-track collection will also be pared down into a 10-track single-disc version aimed at casual fans of the progressive bluegrass/jazz group.

Several guest artists join the Flecktones on the set. McFerrin shows up on several tracks, as does saxophonist Branford Marsalis, noted mandolin player/fiddler Sam Bush, guitarist Derek Trucks, Irish folk act the Chieftains, and dobro master Jerry Douglas.

Also appearing is popular bluegrass act Nickel Creek and New York Yankees centerfielder Bernie Williams. "In almost every case," Fleck says, "the guest happened to pass through Nashville, and we couldn't resist inviting them to do something."

Among other songs, McFerrin and Bush collaborate with the group on a rendition of the Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs gem "The Ballad of Jed Clampett." The song is one Fleck credits as the inspiration that led him to take up the banjo as a teenager. "But the version that we did," he explains with a laugh, "We kind of realized that it worked as a rap song. It's a lot of fun. It was supposed to be a joke, but then it got serious."