Blast Off

by Dege Legg

Tired of going out and hearing the same old thing? Cajun guys, playing Cajun? Zydeco guys, playing zydeco? Blues dudes, playing blues?... Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Written by Dege Legg

Tired of going out and hearing the same old thing? Cajun guys, playing Cajun? Zydeco guys, playing zydeco? Blues dudes, playing blues? Rock dudes squeezing out the same old rock and roll? Check this. Banjo master Bela Fleck, tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain and contemporary upright bassist Edgar Meyer have joined forces for a tour in support of their recent album The Melody of Rhythm. It's interesting stuff - like a jazz-head's dream. The result plays like a mix of world music, classical experimentalism and Appalachian jazz. Freaky, but good. And way more palatable than you'd imagine. By combing their talents as limitless creators, composers and entertainers, they have created an incredibly eclectic and unique musical experience.

"It's a blend of our different and fairly strong personalities," says Meyer. "I think over the course of the evening you will feel elements of bluegrass, Indian music, western classical and jazz. But a lot of it, we hope is a hybrid or a blend of all those things. Somewhere between the three of us, those are pretty primary sources."

Fleck has virtually reinvented the image and the sound of the banjo through a remarkable performing and recording career that has taken him all over the musical map from classical halls to concert arenas around the world. Hussain is a classical tabla virtuoso of the highest order. He's like John Bonham of the tabla, playing with everyone from Ravi Shankar to modern collaborations with Tabla Beat Science. And Meyer is a master of the double bass, pushing the instrument into uncharted seas with unparalleled technique and musicianship.

"Zakir ups the ante. He's such an unusually accomplished musician that it makes you shoot for things you wouldn't have ever thought were possible," says Meyer. "It just raises the bar. He's so steady and so perfect that it's often not that hard. If Bela does something that's tricky and pushes or pulls, Zakir is so fast, he'll go right with him. He's looking for ways for him to be himself, but he's also looking for ways to keep us all together."

When you have three musicians of this caliber, you are sure to get some form of improvisation during the set. "We have a lot of set structures throughout the evening, but there's a lot of room in them to branch off," says Meyor. "Zakir's not locked to any parts; he's always a free agent. But there are plenty of times in the set where Bela and I are both pretty free to explore ideas."

PASA presents one of its most important performances ever with Bela Fleck, Zakir Hussain and Edgar Meyer on March 24 at 7:30 p.m. at the Heymann Center. Tickets range from from $8.50-$41 and are available through, by calling 800-745-3000 or at any Ticket Master outlet.



History of Zakir Hussain in five words, more or less. I am not dead yet.

Average day in the life of Zakir Hussain? What's for breakfast, lunch and dinner?

Why music? Why not Zakir Hussain: Safecracker or Plumber!  Been there, done it.

Worst gig ever? When I played a show in Hyderabad, India and the promoter ran off with all the money before the show. And we were locked out of the theater.

Best Gig ever? Waiting ---- Waiting ---- WAITING.

What's the difference between playing with a sitar player vs. a banjo player like Bela? Bela wears jeans and Prada shoes.

Have you ever tried to play country music with tablas? Which country?

If you were to invent your own style of music, what would it be called? Music for all countries.

When traveling to the United States, do you ever get any weird looks from customs agents when they look over your passport and read your last name? Don't ask don't tell.

2012. Doomsday with disaster or spiritual upgrade? Spaceship with flat bed and food.