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Review: Chick Corea plus Bela Fleck

The Power of Three plus Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
(
London Jazz Festival, Barbican Centre, November 15th 2009- afternoon show-

review by Rob Mallows) 
 
Bela Fleck and his brand of bluegrass-inspired fusion jazz was anything but just a warm-up act for Chick Corea’s “Power of Three” trio. The packed Barbican auditorium was treated to a host of tunes combining breakneck dexterity, rhythmic complexity and the signature Fleck banjo twang.
 
With Howard Levy, from the early nineties incarnation of the Flecktones joining the show, the band played mostly tunes from that period of the band. Levy’s haunting harmonica playing – often while playing heavy piano chops with his right hand – was perfectly set off against the plucking sound of the electric banjo. Damn clever, too!
 
‘Futureman’ (Roy Wooten- above) – more Jack Sparrow than Jack DeJohnette, dressed in his
pirate tricorn hat – was handling drums and percussion on his Drumitar: think an Allan Holdsworth-era synth axe wired up to an iMac. If you closed your eyes, you’d think he was behind a full twenty piece drum set, so effective was his use of the instrument in driving the
set along. He also provided a strong, tuneful vocal on the encore “I stand alone,” with Corea guesting on piano.
 
With Bela Fleck leading the band it was down to Victor Wooten on bass to provide the mega-watts of energy, demonstrating in one cracking five-minute solo every single possible style of bass playing – including his patent double-thumb strumming – and getting sounds out
of his instrument which you just would not think possible. At one point he swung his bass round his neck, Pete Towshend style. Rock on, Victor!
 
Overall, this was a really satisfying gig from a group of artists sharing a wonderful group-think in the way they approached their flights of fancy with each melody.
* * * * *
Long-time friends and bandmates Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Larry White were also having fun together. At one point, when a mobile phone rang, they stopped playing in bemusement, and Clarke bent down to his phone and asked: “Al?” Sadly, Mr di Meola was not calling to ask to sit in!
 
This was a set of straight-ahead acoustic jazz. But from no ordinary trio – their effortless navigation through the different jazz landscapes was awesome.
 

There is certainly real power in this particular three. Chick Corea was on the road last year in his fusion incarnation alongside White and Clarke and Al di Meola as part of the Return to Forever reunion. But to see him live in more straight-forward piano mode is something very special: hands crossing, switching from heavy power chords to dextrous filligree touches on the right hand, Corea showed the London audience what fifty years at the top in jazz stands for. They lapped it up and called for more. Lots more.
 

Lenny White, in trademark bandana, was on the beat, precise, not over-drumming, giving a platform for Corea and Clarke to play melodic one-upmanship. Dependability personified.

 

What had originally drawn me to the gig was Stanley Clarke. Eschewing his new electric Spellbinder bass, Clarke was still totally at home on his upright, continuing the fore-fronting of his acoustic playing seen earlier in the year in his album Jazz in the Garden. I love what this
man can do with an acoustic bass – strumming, slapping, popping, semiquaver runs, percussive two-hand swipes up and down the fingerboard. It was astonishing, and the crowd roared each time.
 
The songs played showed good contrast: Corea’s La Fiesta, Bill Evans’ Waltz for Debby, numbers from Return to Forever, and Softly As in a Morning Sunrise with guest Tim Garland. The set was rounded off with the both bands getting together for Spain, a finale which brought the house down. Great call-and-response playing between Clarke and Wooten, and from Fleck and Corea. When they’d finished, audience members were reaching up to the stage to shake hands with their idols and to give thanks. I am just glad I was there.

Rob Mallows is organizer of the London Jazz Meetup Group

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5 replies »

  1. Hey, I was there too…

    Anything else in life now is just a bonus.

    It was Lenny's phone that rang, I just wanted him to get on the mic and say it was his mom “Are you still out with the lads, what time will you be back?”

  2. And so was I, with my daughter, who said that it was “better than good could have been”.
    Listening to Chick Corea play live was one the items my “things to do before I die” list.

  3. During the first concert Chick Corea played with Bela Fleck & The Flecktones for one and only song.
    Does anyone know the name of that song???

    thank you

  4. In keeping with many others' opinions it seems, this was definitely a concert not to be missed – such a double-billing was right off the top shelf. From the obviously empathetic meeting of musical minds between Corea and Fleck in their previous duet concert, this match-up of their respective trios was an obvious sequel.

    As an individual, each player was brilliant and had plenty of scope to adequately demonstrate it – in their respective groups, that brilliance was taken to a whole new level. When playing en masse in the “Spain” finale, in a situation of doubled-up bass and percussion that could so easily lead to chaos for us mere mortals, they gave us a rendition that flowed like the most natural and satisfying piece you can imagine.

    Thank you – it will keep me smiling all the way to the next Festival and beyond!

  5. The name of the Flecktones' last tune together with Chick Corea was “Sunset Road”. Beautiful! The tune is orginially without lyrics, but Futureman actually sang! I'd really wish that I had a recording from that… I was crying at the second row. I went with six friends from Norway btw <|=D

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