Jazz and bluegrass meet...with surprisingly successful results!
Paul Sullivan 2007
Jazz aficionados will doubtless already be aware of the numinous talents of Bela Fleck and Chick Corea. Venerated maestros of their chosen instruments (banjo and piano, respectively), both have reached Grammy-winning levels of fame and are known for their passionate, open-minded explorations of sound, though usually separately.
The Enchantment is the pair’s first full collaboration despite a mutually agreeable relationship that kicks back to the 1990s when Fleck invited Corea – one of his long-time inspirations - to play on two Flecktones records. Chick returned the favour by having Fleck perform on his 2005 live album, Rendezvous In New York.
Though Corea and Fleck are herded together under the catchall umbrella term 'jazz', they tend to occupy somewhat different artistic and stylistic fields, which is in part what makes this collaboration such a pleasant surprise.
Fleck’s work with The Flecktones blends acoustic and electronic music folk, bluegrass, funk and jazz, though he has also tackled Debussy and Chopin on the banjo in the past. Corea’s own lengthy career, meanwhile, has taken so many musical twists and turns it’s difficult to imagine anything being out of reach for him.
The key to the project’s success lies not so much in the contrast of disparate techniques and styles, but in the crossroads where such things overlap: more specifically, where the players not only meet but gleefully transcend our expectations, which they often do here.
Swapping melodies and counterpoints back and forth with enviable fluidity and skill, the pair switch roles democratically lead and support roles with the kind of consummate ease usually associated with veteran musical partners.
The layered melds of Fleck’s fussy, staccato banjo and the lush, sonorous chords of Corea’s piano come off bafflingly well. Perhaps this has something to do with Fleck’s long-term aim to create 'bell-like tones' with his banjo, or Corea’s avant-garde propensity to reach into his piano and pluck his strings, but whatever the reasons, the results are dazzlingly euphonious.
Bela is responsible for six of the songs here, Chick for four (the eleventh track is a ludic version of “Brazil”), but you would never guess since the duo’s latticework arrangements and playing merge so well. How fluid? Well, Fleck’s banjo can recall good old Southern country blues or intricate jazz riffs one minute, while Corea’s love of Latin grooves and classical sonatas shines through the next.
There are a few difficult passages here and some necessary dissonance, but there is nothing uncomfortable or alienating. It’s everything a collaboration of this caliber should be – perhaps even a little bit more.