On Saturday night, G. and I went downtown to the Auditorium Theater to see legendary jazz pianist Chick Corea and virtuoso banjo player Béla Fleck perform a series of duets together. It was a wonderful concert, and I’m so glad that when G. asked,
“Hey, do you wanna go see this dude Chick play the piano?”
I responded Who?? and then said, “Yeah, sure, let’s go.”
Originally we were seated near the back of the Theater, but true to its name, the Auditorium has pretty amazing acoustics, and the sound mixing at that distance from the stage was perfection, so we really didn’t mind. But it turns out they forgot that there wouldn’t be an orchestra performing, and there were a bunch of chairs right near the stage that were completely unoccupied. Chick made a comment about it, and pretty soon small groups of people leeched out of their seats and tiptoed down to the front of the auditorium to sit near the masters. During intermission, we decided that we, too, could be bold–and that’s where that beautiful photo above came from.
If the sound mixing from the back of the theater was perfect, then sitting in the orchestra chairs two feet from the stage was immersive. Never did I imagine that a banjo could sound like that–Béla is able to make it sound like a Spanish guitar, a sitar, and a Hungarian hammered dulcimer. Under Chick’s hands, the piano alternately sounds like a waterfall, a harp, and a cello; and then suddenly, just when you think it can’t get any more exciting, he plunges his hands into the heart of the grand piano and plucks the strings, reminding us that yes, the piano is a string instrument. During my favorite moments, the piano and banjo blended into each other so well that the two became indistinguishable.
When we moved up to the stage, I was shocked by how much interaction was taking place between the two musicians. Chick only spent maybe 20% of his time looking at the keyboard; the rest of the time he was studying the audience, nodding along to Béla’s melodies, or looking directly at Béla and smiling in clear admiration. Another advantage of being so close to the performers was that we could hear all the humorous things they said to each other in between songs. At one point, Chick stopped to take a photo of himself and the audience was obliged to pause and chuckle while he posted his selfie on Facebook.
G. commented that part of the magic of the concert was its lack of pretentiousness. There was no concern for formality; Chick and Béla were both wearing tennis shoes, and it felt less like a performance than an intimate jam session with two musicians who enjoy each other’s company and have an enormous respect for each other’s musical abilities.
Though every song was perfect–and when I say perfect, I really do mean it–my favorite of the night was the intricately minor “Menagerie,” which you can listen to on Grooveshark here. If I’m remembering correctly, all of their other songs were in a major key, and I felt that “Menagerie” was exceptionally well-suited to their style. They also improvised a large chunk of the song–I’m pretty sure that “Menagerie” at the Auditorium Theater was closer to 15 minutes, not 5.
The ending of the concert couldn’t have been any more satisfying. The audience was clearly appreciate of the musicians, who returned the favor of a standing ovation with a lengthy encore.
I hope you enjoyed this brief concert review (with some observations from G. sprinkled throughout). Now I’m off to listen to more of their 2007 album “The Enchantment,” starting with the gorgeous “Brazil“!