Fleck/Hussain/Meyer

There was absolutely no doubt that tonight’s concert was something orchestrated by three maestros. All three are arguably the best in their respective fields, and although Zakir Hussain was the only one I’d heard of before this, Fleck and Meyer are incredibly awesome as well.

So I’m still trying to figure out why I didn’t have as much fun as I thought I would.

There’s something just extraordinarily uplifting about muscians who play for the sheer pleasure of it, and who are not performing so much as living their instruments. All those things that don’t have words, or better yet, don’t need them! Hussain transitioned between tablas, between the tabla and the ganjira, and some other more Western instruments – all of it done so fluidly they operated as just extensions of the rhythm in his head. Fleck made the banjo, which I’ve always associated with Western country music for some reason, sound as sharp as a sitar yet as liquid as a flute. My favourite, unexpectedly, turned out to be Mayer, who spent his time dancing a complicated tango with his double bass and wrung the deepest, most lovely notes out of the instrument.

And yet I didn’t feel as into the music as I expected I would. My favourite piece of theirs was the second one, a brilliant jazz improvization, started off by Meyer’s plucking on the double bass. (For the record, it is amazing how easily he plays both with and without a bow. Maybe it’s a prerequisite for anyone well versed in the double bass, but I couldn’t wrap my head completely around the ease of it. ) From then on, I’d catch certain phrases I liked, or bits of virtuoso performance that I could clap for – but for some reason, I couldn’t get completely into the music. I couldn’t find some sort of … catchiness, or a pattern, or any recognizable genre or song. Several pieces had the musicians leaping from scale to scale, major and minor and a mix of both, and for some reason that was more off-putting to me than anything else.

Perhaps it’s a reflection of how narrow my music tastes are (have become?) that I found it disappointing to not recognize any particular genre; maybe it wasn’t my day for exciting new music. Fusion it was – and how – but it was the sort of fusion that’s so universal that I couldn’t seem to get a handle on it.

Here’s the thing – the amazing fact about all three musicians is that they took their instruments completely out of their usual contexts – Fleck from African-American/country roots, Hussain from North India, and Meyer from orchestral and chamber music – and used them to say precisely what they wanted to. It didn’t matter that they played jazz or some strange fusion of Indian and Western blues music, there was a sense of wanting to communicate something beyond the musical borders that gave birth to those instruments. At the same time, though, that implied such a burst of freedom that I couldn’t really fathom the music. It was strange.

What was worth at least five times the price of admission though (actually for UT students it was $10, so…) was the sheer ability of these musicians to cohere. I know these were pieces they had worked on and released in an album, but the way they played was telepathy, not simply communication. They spoke in very different ways, but they conversed so well.

And they had excellent stage presence. All three of them joked around with the audience in one way or another: Fleck realized he’d had his score upside down, and then hurriedly flipped it around. Meyer deliberately put down his bow, picked up his mike, and declared, “That’s… sad.” Hussain, riffling his way through a tabla solo, bobbed his head to the left and right as he tried out different tones on the drums. Then towards the end, he banged happily on one of his smaller drums and Meyer threatened to take it away from him until tomorrow morning while Fleck held out one mock-angry hand for it. Lovely.

UT, I’m sorry I got pissed at you about our Engineering funding (or lack of it). If it means you have to arrange more of these concerts, then I say go for it. ❤

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