Chick Corea, Bela Fleck go back to nature at Longwood Gardens

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Bela Fleck and the Flecktones | photo by Doug Interrante for WXPN

It doesn’t get much better than Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA when it comes to idyllic surroundings  — so it’s no wonder that the Chick Corea Elektric Band and Béla Fleck and the Flecktones chose to play in a secret garden of sorts to the sounds of summer.

The sold out performance opened with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones as the frontman magically emerged from the shrubs lining the sides of the stage strumming the song, “Big Country”, a personal favorite since I first heard on the 1998 album Left of Cool.

Their sophisticated sound mixes bluegrass, jazz, rock, classical, funk, world elements and who knows what else into an eclectic yet highly accessible musical assortment. There’s never a shortage of extremely high-level musicianship. The current lineup – which is also the band’s original lineup – consists of Howard Levy on harmonica and piano, Future Man on percussion and drumitar (a novel electronic instrument of his own invention), Victor Wooten (Future Man’s brother) on bass, and Béla Fleck on banjo.

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones | photo by Doug Interrante for WXPN

Béla Fleck did a masterful job working not as the main guy on the stage, but as an equal member in a band of virtuosos. He alternated between acoustic and electric banjo and managed to transcend all banjo stereotypes in the process. Percussionist, Future Man, occasionally complemented his one-of-a-kind drumitar with a traditional drum set. Howard Levy ‘s piano added a vital dynamic to the Flecktones that had been absent during the many years he wasn’t in the band. The return of Levy could partially be the reason that the Flecktones seem so restored now than ever before. Victor Wooten displayed the touch and talent that makes him deserving of the title “world’s greatest electric bassist.” His name might not be in the band’s title, but he is every bit as much the star as Béla Fleck.

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones | photo by Doug Interrante for WXPN

Speaking of high-level musicianship, Chick Corea needs little introduction: Miles Davis, Return to Forever, band leader, 22-time Grammy winner…he’s a true jazz icon and very much first among equals in the band which bears his moniker. Guitarist Frank Gambale, bassist John Patitucci, sax player Eric Marienthal and drummer Dave Weckl are each in their own right wonderful composers and bandleaders. In perfect sync with each other and demonstrating flair, the Elektric Band put on some of the finest quality jazz-fusion you are ever likely to see.

Chick Corea Electric Band | photo by Doug Interrante for WXPN

Thirteen years after their last record, 2004’s To The Stars, and decades after their 1980s touring heyday, the reformed Chick Corea Elektric Band gave a mesmerized Longwood Gardens audience a master class in group dynamics, of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

Opener “Charged Particles” sparkled with levels of energy and in each of the opening solos was an exhibition of musical wizardry: such complexity, such unexpected twists and turns. Corea would grin with a mix of wonderment and whimsy, seemingly as awed as the audience.

Chick Corea Electric Band | photo by Doug Interrante for WXPN

The band is bound together by a common capacity to create complex music with what seems like little effort. Their synchronicity, limitless creative soloing and technical mastery of their respective instruments, each player seemed to be enhanced by the sounds emerging from Corea’s keyboards and emboldened to become part of a greater, unified whole.

Check out the gallery below for more scenes from this spellbinding show.

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