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Chick Corea & Bela Fleck: Two

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Most people probably wouldn’t call a double-disc set of piano and banjo duets a must-hear. When the names of the pianist and banjoist are Corea and Fleck, however, such a set is cause for celebration. Two compiles live recordings made on various tours over a seven-year period following the release of the duo’s studio album from 2007, The Enchantment. Thanks to seamless editing and sequencing, it feels like a single show with a mid-set break. And as excellent as The Enchantment was, the presence of a full audience in the room-applauding, laughing, goading Corea and Fleck on to greater improvisational feats-makes Two its superior.

That these two master musicians enjoy a deeply simpatico rapport is no secret; it’s been clear for at least 20 years, ever since Fleck invited Corea to play on his Flecktones’ 1995 album Tales From the Acoustic Planet. But given the opportunity to develop their natural connection on the road, they have both responded in dramatic fashion. At times here, it feels as if through their playing and, even more important, the highly attuned way they listen to each other, a portal opens up into an alternate universe where the possibilities are unlimited.

Ten songs off The Enchantment, each one drastically reconfigured, form the album’s core. During Corea’s “Señorita,” Fleck finishes even the most challenging of the pianist’s often-florid sentences, punctuating them with aggressive bends, minor-second skronk and an occasional hint of reggae. Corea returns the favor on Fleck’s “Menagerie,” capping fluid single-note lines with crunchy clusters. Rounding out the set are the delicate aural latticework of Henri Dutilleux’s “Prelude en Berceuse” and a riotous rendition of the standard “Bugle Call Rag,” which hints tantalizingly at what a jam between Earl Scruggs and Art Tatum might have sounded like.

Originally Published