Béla Fleck, a name synonymous with the words genius and banjo, has never let a thing like genre define his musical output. From bluegrass to country to jazz and back to bluegrass Fleck is constantly exploring and collaborating. This project with Edgar Meyer, Zakir Hussain and Rakesh Chaurasia fuses traditional bluegrass and the classical music of India. The result is a complex conversation between masters of their particular craft. Hussain is fresh off the 50th anniversary reunion tour of Shakti his seminal group with English guitar master John McLaughlin. Now a new record As We Speak released in May of this year has become the launching pad for a different tour. A tour that began in the spring on the east coast butresumed in Boulder with a sold out crowd.
The collaboration happening from these four musical wizards is mind bending and not very easily explained. This is New Grass Revival meets The Goat Rodeo Sessions meets Planet Drum. The impetus for this collaboration can be traced back to the 2009 release The Melody of Rhythm featuring Meyer, Fleck and Hussain. The delicacy and care each musician takes as they interact is something that is utterly unique in today’s live music scene. Most performers these days are just waiting for their next solo. I arrived early just after doors opened at 7 PM. The crowd slowly trickled into the old Art Deco theater. The audience was a mixed bag with all ages and backgrounds represented. There was a general air of anticipation as the lights flickered on and off indicating the show as about to begin. It was a sit-down show meaning everyone had a decent view of the stage.
The show began sans Rakesh but he would join after the first song and remain for the remainder of the set. From the start until the end Edgar Meyer was absolutely driving the bus. His skilled fingers danced on the strings as the rest of the band followed along layering the melodies. Meyer alternated between using a bow and plucking throughout the show. Rakesh played two different sized Bansuri flutes. The Bansuri is an ancient side blown flute originating in India and Nepal. The tone created had the same notes as a regular flute but the melodies were softer and had a warmth that shifted the feel. Zakir is an absolute monster on the Tablas giving us a mesmerizing performance all night long. He wrote the song J Bhai in honor of his old friend Mr. Mclaughlin, which saw all four playing together in beautiful musical layers.
There was a joyfulness emanating from the stage. These guys were playing some incredibly complex music and having a lot of fun. They closed their first set with Zakir explaining the origin of “Pashto” about an experience he had as a child. During the British occupation of India classical Indian musicians mingled with the Imperial Military Band to blend two incredibly diverse styles of music. Pashto is the language of the natives of Northern India where Zakir heard this music as a young child. With the help of his bandmates he brings that experience to life before a live audience. They took a short set break during which music fans turned to one another to intellectually dissect what they had just witnessed. We could tell this was special.
The second set began as the first without the Bansuri, but Rakesh joined after the first song yet again. This felt like a chance for the original trio to explore some music from their previous time together. During the set the often stoic Edgar Meyer introduced “Canon” which in the Baroque style of music means that the band would play ‘follow the leader.’ Bela would pick a bar of music then Meyer would follow along with his bow and vice versa. There were no frills with the production meaning that Bela had a couple banjos sitting on the drum riser and between tunes he’d get up and switch out instruments himself. For the immense amount of talent on stage there was no ego, only exultation. They closed the show to a standing ovation from an audience that paid them the attention they deserved. I have absolutely no idea if this group will ever form again to tour. So if you love music for the purity of it. If you love watching musicians for their skill then you need to see Bela, Zakir, Edgar, and Rakesh do their thing because there is absolutely nothing else like it in live music today.