Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Chick Corea and Bela Fleck

Piano and banjo are natural-born musical partners, right? Nope, not exactly.

But jazz legend Chick Corea and banjo wizard Bela Fleck play, and communicate, on such a high level that the two come up with plenty of beautiful and intriguing music on The Enchantment, their collection of duo pieces.

My review of the CD, as published in Las Vegas City Life, is below.

Chick Corea And Bela Fleck

The Enchantment (Concord)

Chick Corea is no stranger to duos, having successfully paired with fellow pianist Herbie Hancock and, separately, vibraphonist Gary Burton for myriad concerts and recordings. Corea, too, has freely wandered through career phases variously devoted to straight-ahead jazz, fusion, classical, Latin music and large-ensemble works. Banjo man Bela Fleck has famously gone beyond the pale as an instrumentalist, recklessly disobeying all the old genre rules about where his chosen vehicle of expression ought and ought not to reside.

So a project uniting the two string players (piano counts, technically), fearless musical explorers both, was probably inevitable. The pairing isn't perfect, or perfectly natural: Even after several listens, my ears aren't hearing on Enchantment the kind of mutual tonal warmth these players have created with other partners. But the recording offers its charms, and the two virtuosos certainly demonstrate a childlike delight in playing extended games of tag and call-and-response, finishing each other's musical phrases as if they had been at it forever.

The timeless "Brazil" is one such gem, with Fleck's flickering lines echoed by Corea before the pianist plays the leisurely melody, later passing the theme to the banjoist; the piece winds down with sounds reminiscent of wind chimes, harps and exotic Eastern instruments. Corea's previously recorded "Children's Song #6" gets a friendly facelift, courtesy of Fleck's trickling rejoinders to his partner's statements, while the pianist handily matches the twangy incantations of Fleck's "Mountain" for a nicely polished gem of Americana.

To the musicians' credit, neither's style dominates, as each musician responds to the other's cues without any attendant sacrificing of identity. On second thought, maybe it is a perfect musical marriage.

I wrote a similar review of the CD for the St. Petersburg Times.

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