Photos and Recap by Max Stewart
Banjo extraordinaire Béla Fleck always seems to surround himself with elite musicians, which only elevates the mastery of his playing and ultimately leads him down unique musical paths. That is most certainly true on his latest tour, which features Fleck alongside double bass legend Edgar Meyer, tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, and the master of the bansuri (an Indian bamboo flute), Rakesh Chaurasia.
The group performed their strong new album, As We Speak, during the show in Atlanta at Emory University’s Schwartz Center for Performing Arts, which featured two full sets and an encore. The venue that is typically set up for classical performances proved to be an ideal intimate environment to experience the breadth of this music. The sound that this quartet creates takes pieces of Bluegrass, Indian and Western Classical, Jazz, Celtic, and many things in between and blends them all in perfect harmony.
Each musician in this group is such a master of their respective craft, and this performance was truly awe-inspiring. Meyer has long been regarded as one of the world’s best double bass players, and his ability to transition from using a bow to two-finger picking while capturing a wide-ranging sound from the instrument was captivating. Known as the ‘pre-eminent classical tabla virtuoso of our time,’ Hussain put on a clinic on how to master the various tempos and pitches available on the tabla with precise control (he has also played with George Harrison and Mickey Hart). When he and Chaurasia had a musical callback from the bansuri to the tabla, it was one of the highlights of the night. Chaurasia “comes from Indian classical music royalty as his uncle, Pandit Hariprasad Chaursia, is widely considered the greatest bansuri player in India, and Rakesh — who started playing at age five — is deemed his most brilliant student.”
At the heart of it all, Fleck is the sonic conductor who mixes the sound beautifully with his signature banjo stylings. Fleck, Meyer, Hussain, and Chaurasia have created something truly unique and such a wide-ranging yet accessible sound that must be witnessed live to fully appreciate.
Be sure to see them on tour across the U.S. through May, and get a copy of their album As We Speak, due out on May 12th.