Review / Setlist / Video: Bela Fleck & Chick Corea @ Auditorium Theater 4/5/15

Words / Photos: @WeirScrewed

Even in the robust musical market of Chicago, it is a rare treat when two virtuosos the caliber of Chick Corea and Bela Fleck come together. Both players have such deep catalogs and their respective careers transcend genre. The duo visited the magnificent Auditorium Theatre on Saturday night to play for a few thousand fans that were as diverse as the catalogs of both artists.

Before the opening notes of "Señorita," from the pair's 2007 album The Enchantment, Corea grabbed a microphone and told a story about how the album was written. Corea would write out sheet music that he would email as a PDF to Fleck, who joked about not knowing what a PDF was.

Once the music began, the crowd displayed a mixture of awe and respect to the duo, holding back applause after an incredible run by one of the players so as not to interrupt the corresponding response given by the other. During "Menagerie," Corea reached into the piano to manipulate the strings, producing a deep bass effect that complimented Fleck's banjo.

While introducing the tune "Waltse for Abby", written for his wife Abigail, Fleck spoke about her Evanston roots, noting that her family used to operate the now-defunct Rainbo Ice Rink. Bela constantly wore his appreciation for Corea's playing on his face, continually looking at the crowd  as if to infer "can you believe how good this guy is?"  The unlikely pairing of the mid-tempo Corea composition "Joban Dna Nopia" and Fleck's bluegrass-tinged "Mountain" brought the first set to a close in fine fashion.

After a brief set break, the duo returned to the stage with another story.  This time, Chick recalled a dinner with Stevie Wonder where the conversation turned to American standards. When Wonder asked Chick whether or not his own music could be included in the new standards, Corea replied "Yes, Stevie, I think there is room."  This led to a fantastic rendition of Wonder's classic "Overjoyed."

Bela introduced "Juno" with a much more personal story -- his youngest son was born during the second half of a gig he was playing at the Fillmore. He hopped on a red-eye immediately following the show and wrote this song in the Dallas airport. It's fair to say that this jumpy, happy, joyous song sounds exactly like a bouncing baby boy.

The set concluded with the technical highlight of the evening, the aptly named "Spectacle" but not before Bela took stock of the auditorium's beautiful architecture by looking up and stating "this place is bangin'," while Chick took out his phone to take a selfie and capture the moment.

The double encore of the seminal Flecktones' tune "Sunset Road" paired with Corea's classic "Spain" was an appropriate way to close the show, highlighting each musician's songwriting skills while giving the other room to add to the classic compositions.

The overriding feel in the room was that this audience was being treated to a musical conversation between two masters. We were lucky enough to both see and hear their interplay and call-and-response.

While a great deal of the material was sourced directly from their collaborative album, now seven years old, the most satisfying parts of the evening were witnessing the masters they trade licks, listening to each other and responding in kind. Watching them go back and forth at the pace described by Bela as "mosquitos on speed" was truly a delight.

Before the show, the crowd (which skewed older and more reserved- think season ticket holders-most welcome for this type of show) was treated to an unamplified set in the lobby from the local seven-piece Jonas Friddle and The Majority.

Their set was filled with banjo and strings-led acoustic romps, especially the set closing cover of Paul Simon's "Late in the Evening." Look for more of them around, especially if you like a spirited folk-revival sound.

Set 1:
Senorita, Waltse for Abby, Joban Dna Nopia, Mountain

Set 2:
Overjoyed (Stevie Wonder), Juno, The Enchantment, Menagerie, Spectacle

Sunset Road, Spain

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