Like two comets, tails a-blazing, chasing each other around the galaxy, dancing, jousting, and matter mixing to create something totally anew, Béla Fleck and Chick Corea jolted the Earth further upright on its axis and stunned the Boston crowd on April 10th with their mesmerizing and otherworldly musical spectacular. It seemed all of Beantown went silent to hear what this pair of superstars had to say. Those lucky enough to be inside the Wilbur Theater were spellbound for the entire performance. And, what a performance it was.
Fleck and Corea, acclaimed banjo and piano virtuosos, have joined forces again for a month-long tour. What a rare treat to have two marvels born from wholly different genres collaborate in such an improvisational way right before your very eyes. Just the two of them on stage: a man with his banjo and a man with his piano, showing the world how astounding music can be. Most of the songs Chick and Béla played were pulled from their albums, The Enchantment and Two, arrangements ranging from jazzy fusion to classical to bluegrassy. No limits apparent, however, as they hit everything in between and beyond. They can play absolutely anything together, and when they do, it is insightful, enjoyable and unlike anything heard before. Their inventive interchange drew us in for a one-of-a-kind musical excursion in Boston that night.
They leapt into Chick’s extraordinary Children’s Song No. 6 to open: a wonderful way to launch us into the ride they were going to take us on. It was obvious from the get-go that this was not going to be a show of one accompanying the other on alternating tunes. Far from it. They were each going to be fully engrossed, alternating melody lines from practically one measure to the next, and meeting seamlessly in the middle at just the right time. They glided into Waltse for Abby with Chick’s fairy-tale opening and Béla echoing in his signature sound, beautifully busting the boundaries off a classic one-two-three. We could practically see graceful waltzers twirling behind them on stage.
We lost our breath with Senorita. We were at the edge of our seats as Chick and Béla volleyed the melody, hopped on notes with intense energy, and passed what seemed, at times, each beat back and forth. Impeccable syncopation. That flutter! Our heart rates kept pace as Chick dug into those low notes to kick off those exquisite Latin-flavored runs and exclamation points. Béla burst into an unreal sprint up and down his banjo’s neck. We raced with them through the finish line, needing oxygen at the end, but totally exhilarated about what just happened. ¡Asombroso! Someone yelled, “Play it again.” It was that amazing.
Chick and Béla had other treats in store for us, however. They transported us to the 1700s with versions of Scarlatti’s sonatas (K9 L 413 and K9 L 366) that even Scarlatti, the genius himself, probably never could have imagined. In our heads, we were in an ornate hall, in ball gowns or wigs, stockings and tails witnessing a recital by the finest musicians of the day: an elegant affair. Chick and Béla’s delivery was jaw-dropping as they gave us a taste of what our after-lives will, hopefully, sound like. Fleck then threw down some bluegrass in Mountain: a delight for those who met him way back when. Chick’s chiming in on the high-lonesome created an incredibly cool sound. Fleck sent us to that ridge. Chick put some boogie in that holler. Appalachia has never been the same.
Smiles galore as they opened the second set with two covers, Stevie Wonder’s Overjoyed and Bill Monroe’s Jerusalem Ridge. Utterly unique and riveting renditions of both, of course. You know, just a model fiddle tune played on a Yamaha Concert Grand and a 1937 Gibson Mastertone Style 75 banjo. Enough said.
They performed a French lullaby, Prelude en Berceuse, off of Two, which led into another children’s tune: Béla’s unrecorded piece called Juno. Béla wrote this one en route to meet his baby boy, having missed the birth because of a concert engagement. While regular humans drink coffee and do more Sudoku while waiting for flights, apparently, super-humans pull out their banjos and compose miraculous music to make the universe a better place. Juno is a gorgeous welcome-to-the-world song seemingly saying, “Here is how wonderful your life is going to be, wee-one.”
They had one and all rapt with their dreamy, perfectly-titled title track, The Enchantment. The lightening quick, carnival-esque Spectacle showed off the best of ivory-tickling, the crispest of banjo-picking, and two souls with control over time. With Béla’s smooth back-up, Chick presented an endearing edition of the Chelsea High School song after shouting out to his classmates in the audience, one of whom was a friend from first grade. Wait a minute: Chick was ever in the first grade? How? That makes him sound almost mortal. Our epic journey courtesy of Chick and Béla ended with a grooving Armando’s Rhumba and a standing ovation for the players.
As they took their final bow, brilliant sparks burned off those comets and floated upwards, like flaming ashes drifting up from a fire. We watched them rise as long as we could stand in that theater. And, felt that familiar tinge of sadness start to settle in as we acknowledged the show we had been so looking forward to has come to an end. With Senorita, The Enchantment, Mountain and Scarlatti playing over and over in our heads, we headed for the exit. We walked down those Boston streets and, finally, looked up. It hit us then: those burning comet sparks we saw on the inside turned into stars in the open night sky. A confirmation of what we already knew: this was a performance for the ages; one that people will be talking about for many years to come.
Drop everything and get to a show soon so that you, too, can experience firsthand why the universe is a little brighter these days. Tour dates are here: chickcorea.com/concerts and bélafleck.com/shows Also, grab copies of The Enchantment and Two so you can continue to listen to the magic as you gaze at those dazzling stars.