Chick Corea & Béla Fleck
As befitting jazz, where stylistic boundaries slide away in the face of creativity, in 2006 an innovative but unlikely pairing of two virtuoso instrumentalists—pianist Chick Corea and banjo player Béla Fleck—was born.
Corea and Fleck have admired each other’s music for several years. “I first heard Chick’s recording of his composition ‘Spain’ [from the 1972 Return to Forever album Light as a Feather], and it was one of those defining moments,” says Fleck, one of the most talented banjo players in the world and a multi-Grammy Award winner. “That’s when I realized that the banjo would work in jazz. A year later I got to hear Chick in person with Return to Forever. That was also a shock to my system. I stayed up all night trying to figure out how to play what those guys were playing—on my banjo. By morning, I knew it could be done.”
After that revelation, Fleck closely followed Corea’s creative journey and even once in his early career approached the master pianist to give him some of his original music to listen to.
After getting to know Fleck socially, Corea became intrigued by the music that the banjoist and his seminal bluegrass-meets-bebop band, the Flecktones, were recording. “It’s totally unusual to hear a banjo played that way,” says Corea, an NEA Jazz Master and likewise a multiple Grammy Award winner. “Béla was taking the instrument and the tradition of the banjo and bringing it up as a seriously virtuosic instrument. When I first listened to the Flecktones, I heard a completely fresh sound.”
Fleck invited Corea to record three songs on the Flecktones CD, Tales From the Acoustic Planet (1994), as well as on the Flecktones in-concert album, Live Art (1996).
Corea, in turn, enlisted Fleck to perform with him and Bobby McFerrin on his 2001 Rendezvous in New York project recorded live at the Blue Note jazz club in New York. But the pair had never before played in a duet setting.
The genesis of The Enchantment came about when the two discussed the potential for a duo project. Corea says, “It came together quickly. We just really hit it. We talked a lot and decided to prepare by writing music first. So Béla wrote and I wrote. We talked on the phone and finally got together in Nashville at [bassist] Edgar Meyer’s studio and rehearsed.”
On The Enchantment, Corea and Fleck converse with joy and grace as if they’ve been longtime collaborators. They lead and follow as well as spur each other on. They buoy and muse. Unlike many duo projects where each musician takes extended solo excursions, here the pianist and banjoist play as one, joining together on joyrides through the songs.