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Story and photos by Matt SchwenkeAlthough billed as an unlikely pairing of banjo and piano, Bela Fleck and Chick Corea have already proven to be virtuosi, with both having successful collaborations with a large number of artists in a host of genres and 17 Grammy Awards between them. Stopping at the Pabst Theatre midway amongst a string of shows in the U.S. and then abroad in support of the duo's studio collaboration The Enchantment, the on-stage charisma between Fleck and Corea has become strikingly evident, and the two melded their respective bluegrass and jazz upbringings together as smoothly as perhaps the instruments, in acoustic form, will allow.
Two of the tunes Fleck penned on the new album, "Menagerie" and "Waltse for Abby," opened the show on some sort of a middle ground that bordered a classical fashion, while Corea's "Senorita" pulled things toward a remotely Latin influence. Following with Corea's "Joban Dna Nopia," Fleck pretended to struggle with the pronunciation and quipped that Corea had developed his own musical language, to which Corea got up and flipped over Fleck's sheet music. And much in line with the humor of the great musician/comedian Victor Borge, Fleck could then suddenly read it meant "Banjo And Piano." But the piece itself was no joke as Fleck was able to match the runs of notes and punctuation marks on banjo to what Corea demanded with his tasteful flurry of jazz piano. Pulling things back towards Fleck's roots, "Mountain" went back to the early traditions of the banjo and demanded Corea take on a bluegrass suit, which Corea seemed quite comfortable in. Wether Fleck was bending notes likes a blues guitarist or Corea was plucking the strings of his piano, the two often stared at each other and then back at the crowd as if modestly asking, "Isn't he great?"
Garnering much applause to begin the second set, the crowd had delivered their answer and Fleck and Corea went on to deliver their unique take on the classic "Brazil," with the crowd's attention arrested and held until the very last note. Corea's "Children's Song #6" produced brilliantly bubbling rhythms, while Fleck's "A Strange Romance" and "Spectacle" ended the set with the titles accurately describing the pair's collaboration. A encore version of Fleck's "Sunset Road" capped off the evening with a Flecktones drive and the most stirring moments of the evening. Playfully egging each other on throughout the night and even inquiring a magic 8-ball about their performance, all the while delivering extremely heady and technical compositions, Fleck and Corea's ability or willingness to let the to other musician put their musical mastery and personality on display gave a truly unique view into just how talented these two musicians really are.
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