Chick Corea never sits still. The jazz icon is calling from New Mexico prior to delivering a chamber music concert with a string quartet.
“I love doing different things,” Corea said from Albuquerque. “That’s how it’s been for me ever since I’ve been a musician. When I get interesting opportunities, I jump on them. Different is good for a guy like me.”
Piano and banjo are different. There are few tours, which feature the seemingly disparate instruments. But Corea will be behind the keys when he jams with banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck starting at 8 p.m. Friday at Ruth Eckerd Hall.
“People don’t normally connect piano and banjo but the combination is intriguing to me,” Corea said. “A few years ago Bela and I connected and we found common ground.”
Corea, 72, and Fleck, 55, crafted 2007’s “The Enchantment.” Fleck was nominated for a Grammy that year for the sprawling “Enchantment” track “Spectacle,” in the Best Instrumental Composition category.
“That was a richly deserved nomination,” Corea said. “There is no one quite like Bela.”
Corea and Fleck might seem like two artists on opposite ends of the sonic spectrum but improvisation is their common denominator.
“Quite a bit of ‘The Enchantment’ came through us just playing and exploring,” Corea said. “We both love to take chances with our music.”
The songs from “The Enchantment” are wonderfully diverse. The tandem deftly moves from Latin to country to a waltz. “We had so much fun taking chances,” Corea said. “There were no boundaries when we made that album and there will be no boundaries when we play together live. There will be lots of improvisation. Whenever Bela plays the banjo it sounds like the banjo but nobody plays like him.”
Nobody sounds like Corea either, who is as creative now as he was a half century ago when he emerged as Stan Getz’ pianist. Somehow Fleck and Corea pull off the feat of piano play in a bluegrass song during the playful “Mountain.” “It’s true that you just don’t hear piano in bluegrass,” Corea said. “But we made it work with ‘Mountain.’ That’s what happen when you have a pair of adventurous types together.”
Corea and Fleck will render some new songs they’ve written and a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed.”
“That’s such a beautiful song,” Corea said. “That’s Stevie at his finest. We’ll work out some songs in rehearsal and see where we go.”
When Corea is not out with Fleck, he’s touring behind “The Vigil,” which is filled with quirky, angular and at times thrilling post-bop. The disc, which was released three weeks ago proves that Corea, who was joined by young drumming prodigy Marcus Strickland, bassist Hadrien Feraud, Tim Garland on reeds and winds and guitarist Charles Altura in the studio, is still vital today.
“These young musicians played my music beautifully,” Corea said. “Marcus calls on the great jazz tradition and Tim is extraordinary but so are all of the musicians, who were part of what we did on ‘Vigil.’ I can’t say enough about how fortunate I am to be able to play with Bela and to make an album like ‘The Vigil’ with so many great players. It’s incredible to be able to keep on doing this at this point. I’m unbelievably fortunate.”