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Chick Corea With Bela Fleck - Old Town School of Folk Music, 3/5/2019

  by Lisa Torem

published: 14 / 6 / 2019

Chick Corea With Bela Fleck - Old Town School of Folk Music, 3/5/2019


Lisa Torem watches East Coast musicians jazz/fusion pianist Chick Corea and banjo player extraordinaire Bela Fleck trade impressive licks at Chicago’s Old Town School before a packed house.

With fans packed elbow to elbow on wooden benches and circular tables at the acoustic-- perfect Mauer Hall, banjoist Bela Fleck and pianist Chick Corea humbly took the stage. Excitement was in the air. This was a rare opportunity to see both artists interweave their favorite songs live at the famed Old Town School of Folk Music. Hailing from New York, Fleck is most renowned for his work with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, but has recorded with the likes of Mike Marshall, Edgar Meyer and his wife, Abigail Washburn. Back in 2007, he and Corea recorded ‘The Enchantment,’ which was awarded a Grammy for 'Best Instrumental Album’. A versatile player, Fleck has also joined forces with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Dave Matthews Band and Sam Bush. Corea is most well-known for being a member of the Miles Davis band in the 1960’s. A decade later, he formed Return to Forever and followed up with a series of other successful line-ups. But he is equally known for experimenting on solo projects. With Gary Burton, he was awarded ‘Best Jazz Instrumental Album’ for ‘The New Crystal Silence’ in 2008. And his international hit ‘Spain’ has become a jazz/fusion staple. Clearly each man brings to the table a fine CV. But together? First-timers had reason to be suspect: after all, aren’t banjo players traditionally engaged in bluegrass? And shouldn’t a jazz pianist be trading licks with a stand-up bassist and light-on-the-touch drummer? That’s a reasonable question… But their two-hour performance would prove that such a stereotype needn’t apply, especially since both artists have proved their mettle in so many other collaborative efforts. Also, unlike the average banjoist, Fleck has a ripe history of genre-bending and didn’t seem the least rattled when his inventive counterpart switched gears stylistically. And his respect for his colleague was clearly stated from the get-go: “What a privilege it is to play for my hero Chick Corea!” Fleck intoned prior to the performance of the gentle ‘Children’s Song #6’. Fleck’s own lilting ‘Waltz for Abby’ held special meaning for his wife, Abigail Washburn. Not surprisingly, Corea enthusiastically played one of his favourite Monk compositions, garnering major applause. Classical music buffs perked up when Corea announced that he would play a piece by composer Domenico Scarlatti. “He wrote 550 piano sonatas. I’m going to play two of them,” he shared. Before they began, Fleck added, “Let’s see what happens on the banjo.” What happened then was pure magic. Fleck’s vivid ornamentation equaled the creative output of his bandmate. Watching the two youthful spirits build upon each other’s melodies and rhythms was both relaxing and suspenseful, depending on the particular song. When they spoke, it was generally to relay the back story behind an original piece of music — no idle chatter here! Corea’s light touch, expressive phrasing and selective pedal point was delightful. The mutual onstage respect was evident consistently throughout the show. As Fleck relayed the story about being stuck at the airport during his child’s birth, pulling out his banjo and writing ‘Juno,’ their next song, Corea stood back with admiration. Their encore consisted of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Overjoyed’ and a Latin-inspired ‘Armando’s Rhumba,’ proving once more their keen ability to shift gears and work as a team. Photos by Janet M. Takayama https://jeannedarcmedia.com/

Also at Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago

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