Jazz/roots

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Tony Hil­lier

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.

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