Two Chick Corea & Bela Fleck Concord/Planet With exploratory zeal and incomparable virtuosity and versatility, Bela Fleck has taken five-string banjo into settings where it has never been before, earning kudos for himself and his instrument — as a glut of Grammy awards and nominations in more categories than any other artist testifies. The eponymous debut duo album with his wife has taken him back to banjo’s American folk roots. He finds himself in an unfamiliar place and in an accompanying role on the selfrecorded album, with feel and fills taking priority over pyrotechnics. In a resultant warm and engaging album of front-porch songs, Fleck perfectly complements Washburn’s old-school singing and traditional clawhammer banjo playing while embellishing in an imaginative but subtle manner. Washburn’s solid rhythm gives her partner licence to move around, though entirely within the context of the music. Adroit use of a range of banjos — from their favourite instruments to cello, ukulele and bass variants and a baritone model specially developed for the session — and different styles allow the pair to deploy a full palette of tonal colours. A minor key transposition and the inclusion of Oh! Susanna transports trad opener Railroad into trippy territory. The Appalachian murder ballad Pretty Polly is rendered more conventionally, but gospel chestnut What are They Doing in Heaven Today benefits from an unexpectedly demure reading. Of the duo originals, Washburn’s Shotgun Blues is surprisingly gutsy, lyrically and stylistically; likewise Fleck’s tsunami response, What’cha Gonna Do. In a well-arranged instrumental, New South Africa, the pair swaps banjo lines like longstanding duellists, while oblique bass runs and slides give the cocomposition Little Birdie an avant-garde ring. Fleck has already picked up one Grammy with jazz piano maestro Chick Corea and the follow-up to 2007’s award-winning collaboration The Enchantment could easily net another. Two is a meeting of true equals, in which the banjoist’s ingenuity and invention as an improviser are given full rein. Both players respond in real time to the unknown with alacrity and aplomb. A remarkable rapport is evident in the exchanges of set opener Senorita. The dialogue in Menagerie is playful, featuring phrases and runs in unison and harmony, and a preview of the Corea classic Armando’s Rhumba that winds up this live album. Joban Dna Nopia culminates with dramatic string slapping from Fleck, followed by a furious flurry of notes. The banjo master solos spectacularly in The Climb, an ascending selfcomposition showcasing tremolo, before scaling the heights in Mountain with his partner.