Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Other World Music: Sholto Byrnes Applauds a Jazz Performance That Is Full of Fireworks

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Other World Music: Sholto Byrnes Applauds a Jazz Performance That Is Full of Fireworks

Article excerpt

Chick Corea/Bela Fleck

Barbican, London EC2

Shortly before he underwent heart surgery, the late drum virtuoso Buddy Rich was asked if he was allergic to anything. "Country and western music," was Rich's reply. Quite what he would have made of a jazz performance beginning with the twangs of a Jew's harp, shortly to be joined by the plucking of a banjo, one can only guess.

In the case of the opening set by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, however, I think that the well-known wrath of Rich would have been swiftly stayed. For the five-stringed instrument of the 51-year-old New Yorker Fleck is not employed for the kind of camp-fire hoedown one associates with Blazing Saddles. Accompanied by the remarkably versatile Howard Levy on piano and harmonica, a supple Victor Wooten on electric bass and Roy "Futureman" Wooten, wearing a pirate hat and wielding what looked like a guitar assembled from car scrap (in fact, a "drumitar" producing the sound of a full kit), Fleck delved into a quite different bag.

This music, all fluid feels and highly rhythmic grooves, traversed the great American territories explored by Pat Metheny (the similarities between Fleck on banjo and Metheny on acoustic guitar were on occasion startling) or Dave Grusin, whose use of arpeggioed fifths and octaves on piano was echoed by the outstanding, crystalline Levy; indeed, it went all the way back to the maps of the continent drawn by Aaron Copland. It shares that sense of an open, unending horizon: chord changes punctuating the landscape "with the certainty of canyons, and the journey infused with that clear, New World optimism that a friend once described as being like a primeval, tuneful "yes". It draws on jazz, recognises and shares its structures and harmonies; yet owes nothing to the urban habitat essential to so much jazz, shucking off the city dust as it enters a "country" that even Rich might have enjoyed. …

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