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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

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The Enchantment

Concord 088072302532




1. Senorita
2. Spectacle
3. Joban Dna Nopia
4. Mountain
5. Children’s Song, No. 6
6. A Strange Romance
7. Menagerie
8. Waltse Por Abby
9. Brazil
10. The Enchantment
11. Sunset Road
Chick Corea – Piano
Béla Fleck - Banjo

The banjo is possibly the most maligned musical instrument of all. This may be because it is used in hillbilly-style music and is therefore (unfairly) associated with yokels with straws in their mouths, or it may be because the banjo is used to make irritating strumming noises in many traditional jazz bands. At any rate, an internet search for "Banjo jokes" throws up an immense number of suggestions which display deep contempt for the instrument (e.g "Why does everyone hate a banjo straight off?" "It saves time").

However, banjo players are fighting back, and people like Béla Fleck are helping to establish the instrument’s acceptability – indeed, its versatility. He started as a bluegrass player but soon started investigating jazz and later explored rock, pop and classical music, so that his playing now covers a wide variety of styles. On this CD he is paired with keyboardist Chick Corea and the two men work superbly together, often interweaving contrapuntally and displaying remarkable telepathy. This is their first full album together, although they have collaborated in various ways since 1994, when Chick Corea played on a CD by Béla’s group, the Flecktones.

The first track. Senorita, was written by Chick Corea and it has his familiar Latin-American feel. It immediately exhibits the duo’s virtuosity, playing complex lines in unison. Spectacle is equally complex: a playful piece by Fleck, demanding great dexterity from both players. Jonan Dna Nopla (no, I’ve no idea what it means) has Béla decorating an ostinato laid down by Chick, before they take turns in playing solos and backings. Their togetherness is breathtaking.

Mountain was written by Fleck and it betrays his roots in bluegrass and country music, with Corea gladly joining in the rural atmosphere. Chick Corea is famous for his Children’s Songs and No. 6 has the mixture of simplicity and intricacy typical of this series of compositions.

The next three items were all written by Béla Fleck, and exhibit his wide range. A Strange Romance has a middle-European folkiness about it – but then Béla’s first name was borrowed from Béla Bartok. Menagerie is flightily intricate, contrasting with the romantic rhapsodizing of Waltse Por Abby. Brazil is the only non-original tune on the album. It might have benefited from the addition of some percussion, as it’s hard for just these two musicians to capture the tune’s rhythmic possibilities. In fact this is the only place where Béla sounds slightly uncomfortable, while Chick is completely at home with the Latin-American pulse.

The title track is a pensive, meandering piece by Corea, and the CD ends with the country-flavoured Sunset Road. All through the album, the two men play together as one, proving that good music is not just a matter of technique but also of mutual listening.

Tony Augarde


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