If you closed your eyes, the cascade of notes issuing from Chick Corea’s grand piano and Bela Fleck’s banjo at the Orpheum Theater Saturday (April 16) combined to produce a sound like a harpsichord. “Very baroque” a beguiled audience member commented.
Corea is a preternaturally youthful jazz keyboard maestro, whose legendary status reaches back to the 1960s when he accompanied Miles Davis at some of the trumpeter’s most experimental moments. Fleck emerged in the 1980s to blend earthy bluegrass banjo with flights of extraterrestrial classical fusion. Together, they rewarded the Orpheum audience with two hours of intense, impeccable instrumental abstraction.
Corea charmed his fans immediately at the start of the show by thanking them for “coming to listen to our meandering.”
“We’re going to start with the first piece we’re going to play tonight,” he joked. Later he teased Fleck with the comment “I never particularly liked the banjo.”
The song list was eclectic, including original compositions, classical pieces by composers obscure enough that Corea playfully quizzed the audience to see if anyone recognized them, and a Bill Monroe bluegrass tune titled “Jerusalem Ridge,” rendered with emotional complexity by the two masters.
Corea provided a particular thrill when, at two or three junctures in the concert, he stood, and reached into the piano to pluck and stroke the strings, like a harp.
The crowd-pleaser, among all the evening’s crowd-pleasers, was Fleck’s original “Juno,” named for his son and written in an airport while waiting for a flight home to see the baby for the first time. Fleck pointed out that he’d selected a simple two-note phrase that sounded like the name Ju-no. It was delightful to hear the simple, recognizable theme pop up again and again in the jaunty yet melancholy composition.
“You have survived a night of complex, intricate music,” Fleck deadpanned as the crowd cried out for an encore. Corea, he said, is his hero.
Audience members advised that “The Sinister Minister,” by Fleck and “Armando’s Rhumba,” by Corea were involved in the pair’s virtuosic finale.
Were you there? Did my assessment of the evening match yours? Who were those less-well-known composers Corea endorsed? Tell me what you thought in the comment stream below.