May 22, 2024

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CD review: Chick Corea & Bela Fleck – Remembrance – 2024: Video, CD cover

Chick Corea, the still-effervescent jazz piano star, continues to tour the UK with his wide-ranging group the Vigil, but though his long-running duo with banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck is a more intimate affair, the pair generate plenty of playful, spontaneous heat.

The music on this double album represents their favourite moments from eight years of live recordings, with originals from both (including Corea’s Senorita, Children’s Song No 6 and bouncing Armando’s Rhumba; Fleck’s dreamy, dancing Waltse for Abby and the hypnotic Mountain), joined by a bluegrass treatment of Benny Goodman vehicle, Bugle Call Rag, and contemporary composer Henri Dutilleux’s Prelude en Berceuse.

There’s a bit too much between-tunes backchat, which won’t surprise Corea followers, but the empathy, relay-racing exchanges, imagination and exuberance of these two (particularly on the second disc’s warmly entwined Brazil, and the virtuosic Bugle Call Rag) will stir grateful memories for Corea/Fleck regulars, and enthuse plenty of newcomers too.

Start with a pair of virtuoso musicians, two guys who have twenty Grammys between them but have worked together only sporadically. Add in the freedom to explore and create, and then turn them loose. That’s the recipe for this exciting new Concord album, The Remembrance, featuring legendary jazz pianist Chick Corea and Béla Fleck, the banjo wizard known for pushing the boundaries of an instrument that’s normally part of folk or country music.

The only problem I’m going to encounter in reviewing this album is in trying to restrain my galloping enthusiasm – it’s that good. I would not have guessed that a collection of songs this enjoyable could have been created with only piano and banjo, but these guys are so talented and innovative that it works. A key aspect might be that ten of the eleven cuts were written by one or the other of the stars, and it’s obvious that they know their own strengths — and each other’s.

Which is not to say that the one non-original tune, the Latin jazz standard “Brazil”, doesn’t fit perfectly into the mix – it does – and their artful treatment made it a favorite of mine. But the meat of this album is in those songs they’ve fashioned for themselves, and that’s where they really shine.

Some of the songs, such as the first cut, “Senorita”, seem at first to be a showcase for the composer, in this case Corea. However, Fleck later takes his turn with a passage that’s almost haunting. The same happens with “Mountain”, but in reverse, as Fleck begins with an interlude that echoes bluegrass, only to later give way to Corea’s strong piano. I liked this one a lot.

But this album isn’t just about solos. Ballads such as “A Strange Romance”, or the softly elegant “Waltse For Abby”, give the musicians the opportunity to show how they can skillfully blend their sounds. And the title tune of the album, “Remembrance”, gives us a new listening experience, while at the same time retaining a comfort level not present in some examples of cutting-edge music.

Some of the sounds are amazing. I enjoy the banjo as an instrument in bluegrass and other forms of music, but this is not your father’s banjo. (Not that there’s anything wrong with your father’s banjo.) Fleck’s roots are in that type of music, but he dazzles with his ability to manipulate his instrument in ways I wouldn’t have guessed possible, and he’s matched along the way by the always enjoyable Corea.

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