Chick Corea and Béla Fleck: Two at The Orpheum

In the modern musical landscape that thrives on safety and formula, one has to admire musicians who are always pushing boundaries, looking for new collaborations and and new forms of expression. Virtuoso pianist Chick Corea certainly falls into that category – turning 75 this year, he has played with everyone from Cab Calloway to Miles Davis to Stan Getz to Pat Metheny. He certainly has nothing to prove – he`s been nominated for a Grammy Award a mind-boggling 63 times and won 22 times plus 2 Latin Grammy Awards.

Here’s a short documentary on Armando Anthony “Chick” Corea:

For his 70th birthday in 2011, Corea took up a month`s long residency at the Blue Note in New York performing with 10 different groups and 30 different musicians compiled and released on the recording Rendezvous in New York. This kicked off a new flurry of activity which had him visiting a number of former and new projects and collaborations including the revival of his fusion ensemble Return to Forever, the 40th anniversary of his duo with vibraphonist Gary Burton, The Five Peace Band with John McLaughlin and Kenny Garrett and the exquisite piano duo with Herbie Hancock which he brought in a sold-out show to the Chan Centre last year (see http://vancouverjazz.com/2015/03/chick-corea-and-herbie-hancock-at-the-chan-centre-march-15th-2015.html). On April 22nd at the Orpheum Theatre, Chick returns with another genre-bending collaboration in his award-winning duo with Béla Fleck.

Here’s a trailer about their current live recording:

And their performance of Senorita from Two:

The banjo is an instrument that hasn`t been regularly heard in contemporary jazz ensembles since Johnny St. Cyr played it in Louis Armstrong`s Hot Seven back in the 1920s. The banjo in a slightly different form is thought to have roots in Africa – early incarnations had gourd resonators and were derived from the West African instrument the kora. Most jazz ensembles (outside Trad and Dixieland) eventually abandoned it for the more versatile guitar although it was embraced by folk, country and bluegrass music in the hands of musicians like Pete Seeger and Earl Scruggs.

It`s not hard to argue that the musician most responsible for widening the appreciation of the banjo and its acceptance into wider musical contexts has been Béla Fleck. Béla Anton Leoš Fleck was destined for a musical career having been named for Eastern European composers Béla Bartók, Antonín Dvořák and Leoš Janáček! Although he`s an icon in the bluegrass world, he also holds the distinction of having been nominated for Grammy Awards in more categories than any other musician including country, pop, jazz, bluegrass, classical, folk, spoken word, composition, and arranging – he`s actually won 14 plus a Latin Grammy for his 2007 duo collaboration with Chick Corea for the recording The Enchantment.

He`s no stranger to Vancouver audiences either having appeared here many times with his fusion group Bela Fleck and The Flecktones, and more recently shows at the Chan Centre in a trio with bassist Edgar Meyer and tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain and a sold-out show in 2014 in a banjo duo with his wife Abigail Washburn with whom he won the Best Folk Album Grammy this year! In recent years both Corea and Fleck have extended their interests to classical settings – Chick with a Piano Concerto and orchestral arrangements of compositions like Spain and Bela Fleck with two Banjo Concertos. The 2014 documentary How to Write a Banjo Concerto follows the premier of his first Banjo Concerto commissioned by the Nashville Symphony:

He’s come a long way from someone who was inspired to pick up the banjo from the playing of Earl Scruggs on the theme song from The Beverley Hillbillies!

So obviously one of the things that Chick and Bela share is a love of musical adventure and the opportunity to take chances. This was first launched with a guest appearance by Chick on Bela Fleck`s 1995 recording Tales From the Acoustic Planet and has continued up to the release last year of the recording Two which documented a number of duo tours that Chick and Bela have undertaken since the release of Enchantment. The current tour finally brings them to Vancouver and will let Vancouver fans see what the fuss has been all-about. The recording Two gives a good idea of what to expect with compositions from both including one of Chick`s well-known Children`s Songs (No. 6), his Armando`s Rhumba and the Crystal Silence-inspired The Enchantment. Bela contributes a waltz dedicated to his wife and several solo and duo workouts like The Climb and The Mountain. Covers include the latin chestnut Brazil and the Benny Goodman-associated tune Bugle Call Rag which has evolved since the 1940s into a bluegrass standard!
Here’s their take on Brazil from that album:

Leave your preconceptions at home, Chick Corea & Béla Fleck will be a musical treat for anyone willing to give it a try!

Coastal Jazz presents Chick Corea & Béla Fleck at the Orpheum Theatre Friday April 22nd 2016 at 8pm.
See The Coastal Jazz Website for ticket information.

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