Chick Corea and Bela Fleck create multifaceted performance on piano and banjo

04/07/2014 10:45 AM

04/07/2014 10:45 AM

A jovial, nonchalant show at Kauffman Theatre isn’t what one might expect from two eminent virtuosi, but that’s exactly what Chick Corea and Béla Fleck delivered for their duet show Sunday evening at the Kauffman Center.

On piano and banjo, this pairing created a mesmerizing world of sound drawing from their Grammy Award-winning album “The Enchantment.”

They traded melodies back and forth, contrasting or in conjunction, all the time embellishing in their own stylistic way, whether influenced by Latin, jazz, bluegrass or classical. However, in those moments when they played a simultaneous line it opened up an entirely new sound concept that melded the quick, sharp decay of the banjo with the rounded tones of the grand piano.

The laidback attitude started immediately, when Corea took a photo of the waving, cheering audience from the stage. Good-natured banter incorporated a little mock confusion in a subdued Vaudevillian routine they’ve developed during this and previous tours.

But the playing was serious. Riveting, extended lines indulged the audience with creative harmonies and dexterous finger-work, evidence of the caliber of performance from their eclectic backgrounds. Effortless communication, offering each other leeway, formed a seamless palette, the often forward-pressing energy amped each time they synced together as a delightful, seemingly unexpected, surprise.

They both contributed pieces to the album, beginning with Corea’s “Senorita,” the introduction a series of thematic snippets and meandering flourishes that tested out the space before arriving at a melody imbued with Mediterranean zephyrs.

“Joban Dna Nopia” (Corea’s anagram on “banjo and piano”) had a spill-over melody of subtle turns on top of a trotting rhythmic ground, ending in a cascading coda. Also by Corea, “Children’s Song #6” rippled against a hypnotic ostinato, while “The Enchantment” carried a twisting melody over supportive, enthralling chords.

Fleck’s “Waltse for Abby,” written for his wife, began with Corea on an elastic line of careful note placement. The spirited opening run of his “Spectacle” launched into a chaotic series of chasing lines.

Not every piece came off the album. Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” opened the second half, performed with an introspective approach that moved from spare to expansive in a breath. And they charmingly embellished Fleck’s chirpy “Juno,” a jaunty sort of tune an excited new father would write for his son while waiting in the airport, as was the case.

A generous encore followed the initial standing ovation, garnering another for the gratifying performance.


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