Chick Corea and Béla Fleck ‘Two’ 2CD (Concord) 4/5

chick-corea-bela-fleckPianist Chick Corea has made a habit out of duet albums in recent years, with the live and studio recordings alongside Gary Burton especially memorable. On this occasion the pairing is a far less obvious one, country-folk banjo player Béla Fleck, but the result is virtually as compelling and both musicians succeed in accommodating one another and adapting to each other’s musical environment. A well balanced mixture of originals and standards works a treat and covers a diversity of styles. The interplay between the two on the de facto Brazilian national anthem co-written by Ary Barroso, ‘Brazil’, features the flowing Latin-tinged piano of Corea, but Fleck sounds more akin to the Brazilian string instrument the cavquinho and thus the rendition sounds totally authentic. In fact, in one section, Fleck even makes his banjo sound like a sitar, and both musicians, after stating the theme, set off on a tangent and solo at length. Chick Corea is much loved for his ECM solo piano albums of the early 1970s and from them, ‘Children’s song no. 6’ is taken and is treated to a near fifteen minute epic version. It is a fast-paced interpretation that serves to showcase the virtuosity of the pair and Fleck manages to maintain the frantic tempo set by the pianist while Corea comps sensitively when Fleck takes centre stage. For finger-plucking banjo playing of distinction, look no further than ‘Bugle call rag’, that proves to be a real crowd pleaser while ‘Sunset road’ is turned into an acoustic blues in the intro before Fleck muses at length. A complete change of setting is to be found on the reposing classic piece composed by Henri Dutilleux, ‘Prelude en Berceuse’ and both musicians fill in the spaces admirably. To conclude matters on a high note, the perennial Corea favourite, ‘Armando’s Rhumba’, receives some tasty Latin vamps from the outset with Fleck following close on Corea’s heels. There is a joyous melodicism to this piece with Corea in his element. A fine set of duets, then, where the empathy between the two is self-evident.

Tim Stenhouse