We were pleased to receive complimentary tickets to see Béla Fleck on banjo, Edgar Meyer on double bass, and Zakir Hussain on tabla in concert at Laxson Auditorium tonight, courtesy of KCHO/Northstate Public Radio (kcho.org). The concert was amazing, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so if they are coming to your area, be sure to see them. They don’t have any recordings that are just this trio; though they have collaborated often, the record they are promoting is ‘concerto-style’, with them accompanied by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and though some of the tunes they perform on the tour are on the album, but most aren’t, and some are considerably rearranged or completely new derivations, based on, for example, a theme from the horn section that they didn’t get to play themselves. (In my opinion, there are so many millions of notes being played by these talented performers—only half of which can really be noticed—that I don’t think the orchestra is necessary.) In short, you are not going to find any single recording, or make your own compilation, that comes close to capturing what happens at one of these shows.
The first tune began with an Edgar Meyer solo. I must confess, I had never appreciated double bass solos before tonight. Meyer is a virtuoso, even having recorded the Bach cello suites. Christina was so enamored with it that she actually told me I have to learn to play the bass! Zakir Hussain’s tablas are so precisely tuned, that you forget sometimes during his solos that he’s the only one playing, until you look over to the other guys and they’re just standing there watching, or snapping along keeping time, perhaps working up new tunes in their heads. I know Meyer and Fleck have collaborated on a duo project before, but Hussain’s tabla provides a perfect link between the two instruments: the banjo is already percussive, and Hussain’s tablas are tuned so well that they are melodic; when he presses his left hand on the larger drum to change pitch on-the-fly, he makes it sound just like the bass, and so Fleck and Meyer and Hussain can pass a tune around to each other in canon.
One of the things that has always struck me about Béla Fleck ensembles is how music that can sound so improvisational is often so intricately composed. You start to get an idea of this when you notice the musicians are playing fast riffs in harmony, or counterpoint, or hitting the same accents. But it’s not until you see a behind-the-scenes documentary with band members studying pages and pages of sheet music at rehearsal that you see just how deep the level of control is, and how impressive it is that they don’t need all these scores when playing live 3-hour sets.
There are some musicians that inspire you to make more music; there are some whose skills are so profoundly jaw-dropping that they make you want to give up and say, “I sucketh forever.” I am not quite sure yet which of these this performance has done to me.
Laxson will announce it’s 2011-2012 concert season lineup in June, so stay tuned to chicoperformances.comfor the details.