Banjoist Béla Fleck and double bassist Edgar Meyer describe tabla player Zakir Hussain as one of the best musicians they know. It's high praise coming from a pair of musicians who have 19 Grammy Awards and a MacArthur Fellowship between them.
Currently on tour, the trio will be at the Schermerhorn this Sunday. The performance will mark the first time they've played in town since being commissioned by the Nashville Symphony to write a triple concerto for the grand opening of the Schermerhorn in 2006.
Fleck and Meyer stopped by the studio to talk with Kara McLeland about where they've found common ground in their unique trio of instruments, what they've learned (and what they've found most challenging) in their collaboration, and who in the trio can play the fastest.
Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain perform "Bubbles," from their 2009 album The Melody of Rhythm
On the trio's compositional process:
Béla Fleck: I’ll throw out a little thought about that, how we’re really different. I tend to get my banjo out and I find some idea on it, and it turns me on and then I write a part or something, and that’s kind of how I write. And then I use the craft, what little craft I have, to try to complete it and make it into a final song. Edgar’s process is very different. A lot of times his process is not—I don’t even know how to explain it—but it’s not with an instrument in your hand. It’s thinking about the music.
Edgar Meyer: My instrument’s just too hard. I mean, if I tried to write on my instrument, everything would be slow and low.
BF: And then when you get to Zakir and you say, ‘man, Zakir, we’ve got this idea we’re working on and we really need something in, you know, a melody that’s in seven that hits the fourth beat every once in a while,’ he opens his mouth and he sings the perfect thing before he’s even thought about it. So he’s like the problem solver, in our piece, in our arrangements... and he gives us the solution and Edgar and I always look at each other scratching our head going, well that’s about the most elegant, perfect solution you could’ve come up with. That would’ve taken us forever and we would’ve never come up with that.
On welcoming flutist Rakesh Chaurasia to the ensemble:
EM: For this tour, we have a guest whose name is Rakesh Chaurasia. He’s the nephew of Hariprasad Chaurasia, who is the man who really elevated the flute in India—the bamboo flute... And Rakesh has really inherited some of the ability. He’s very much a classical Indian player, but he’s spent a lot of time playing in the movies over there and playing in different types on ensembles, and we have done a little bit of touring in India with him and he’s come and played with us.
BF: Yeah, we did a few things together. Enough to know, now that we had done this for a number of years... that if there was gonna be another iteration and we were gonna do this again, it would really be cool to have a new voice, especially a cat like that.
On how they describe their genre-defying music:
BF: I think it’s just personalities, it’s different kinds of people with a lot of different backgrounds that are very comfortable with being themselves. And it actually makes collaborating very easy, because nobody’s walking on eggshells. As much as we deify Zakir, and he deserves it, we’re not being shy and demure, because it just doesn’t make a good collaboration. It’s just time to step forward and be yourself. And that makes a more interesting group—the more diverse the personalities... once Edgar said something that I always thought was great and I would steal, and I’m sure I have many times, but there’s more that’s similar about all these different kinds of musics than there is that’s different.