Mesmerizing concert by Zakir Hussain, Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer at Town Hall

Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Zakir Hussain, with Rakesh Chaurasia, at The Town Hall, in New York City, on November 15, 2018. Photo by Sachyn Mital.

NEW YORK – Tabla maestro Zakir Hussain played with banjo star Béla Fleck and double bass wizard Edgar Meyer, accompanied by Rakesh Chaurasia on flute, for an enthralling, mesmerizing musical evening at The Town Hall, in New York City, on November 15th.

The trio of Hussain, Fleck and Meyer have, between them, won an astounding 22 Grammy awards, and even more nominations.

The sold-out concert, which went on for three hours – and ended at around 11 p.m. – had the audience in rapture. There was frequent, enthusiastic clapping for some beautiful, eclectic, woven music that was strummed out effortlessly, and seamlessly.

Rakesh Chaurasia playing at The Town Hall, in New York City, on November 15, 2018. Photo by Sachyn Mital.

Chaurasia, nephew of renowned flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia, proved an able foil to the three musical geniuses.

A long, standing ovation at the end prompted the musicians to return to the stage for yet another last piece. It was lapped up with sheer adulation.

For those three hours, the audience forgot the travails of how they got to the venue, and how they would get back home, with a major snowstorm and piling inches of snow creating havoc on roads in the tristate area.

All that really mattered was how as the tantalizing, complex musical notes wafted inside the cozy confines of the auditorium, sometimes the head moved in tandem, and other times, the feet tapped to keep pace.

The rare cohesion, sheer harmony and understanding between Hussain, Fleck and Meyer, who never used musical notes, as they coursed through intricate sets – including some new pieces, to thread together bluegrass, jazz, and Indian classical traditions, was intriguing, and magical in itself to watch.

Their extraordinary interaction, and uncanny timing, suggestive of a sui generis jazz trio, was bold and innovative. It not only improvised on set melodies, harmonies, and rhythms but also on musical genres. The effect was senses being regally serenaded.

Think of catharsis from dull complacency after listening to blasé, pop junk on FM radio on a long drive.

The trio also performed at Cornell University, following their concert at the Town Hall.

Zakir Hussain playing at The Town Hall, in New York City, on November 15, 2018. Photo by Sachyn Mital.

The 67-year-old Hussain, who has over the decades collaborated with artists as diverse as George Harrison, Yo-Yo Ma, Giovanni Hidalgo, Jan Garbarek, Van Morrison, John McLaughlin, and Mickey Hart, in an interview to the Cornell Sun, explained his superb rapport with Fleck and Meyer: “Rhythm is universal. That allows for a rhythmic instrument to fit in more comfortably with any form of music. As far as playing with Béla Fleck and Edgar Meyer is concerned, banjo and bass, they are also of the same variety of instrument as my tabla. That is, they are both rhythmic and melodic instruments. We have something very much in common.”

Fleck, who cites as influences Earl Scruggs, Chick Corea, and Charlie Parker, has earned awards in a dizzying variety of genres, from jazz and world music to classical, bluegrass, and gospel.

Meyer, a MacArthur fellow whom The New Yorker praised as “…the most remarkable virtuoso in the relatively unchronicled history of his instrument,” has moved with ease from classical repertoire to jazz and bluegrass, and back.

Fleck met Meyer in 1983 at a festival in Aspen. The banjoist and bassist teamed up for a double concerto for the Nashville Symphony Orchestra in 2004. Its success led to another commission, for which they called on Hussain for percussion.

“Béla and I were both very big fans of Zakir, at least since high school,” Meyer said in an interview. “For most of our lives, he’s been one of the musicians we admired the most.”

The result was the astonishing The Melody of Rhythm; Triple Concerto & Music for Trio, recorded with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Leonard Slatkin and released on CD in 2009. They were nominated for a Grammy that year. It was the beginning of a collaboration that continues to evolve to this day.

Meyer once said in an interview that the trio could “walk in and just go. We know each other. We have a repertoire. Yet, (Fleck and Hussain) are two people who challenge me fundamentally, both in knowledge and native ability. I don’t take anything for granted with it. I’ve always got a long list of things that I can and should be working on in this trio.”

And then there’s the humility.

Over this past weekend, Hussain traveled to India, where he was felicitated at the Global Pulotsav at Balgandharva Rangmandir, in Pune, Maharashtra.

Read interview with Zakir Hussain, by Sujeet Rajan:

This is what he said, after being felicitated:  “I am not the best tabla player in the world. There are many great tabla players around. I am one of them. There is nothing like the best or the one and only. The idea should be to get better.”

Question for Mr. Hussain is: How does one go about to better perfection?

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)



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