My Monday nights are not usually for concerts, but when you’ve got one night only, November 12, with Béla Fleck with friends Zakir Hussain, the tabla phenom, and Edgar Meyer, on bass, you’ve got a must-hear event. Add in Rakesh Chaurasia on the Bansuri, an Indian flute, and you’ve got an evening that truly brings worlds together.
The Matthews Theatre is the perfect venue for this type of event–large enough to accommodate enough aficionados and intimate enough to feel like a house concert. We were seated in the orchestra, immediately in front of the mezzanine, and the sound was as crisp as the humor. The only difficulty with the amazing evening was the paucity of announcements of which songs were which, though the tour is likely to yield an album you’ll want to acquire the moment it hits the internet.
From the very beginning, the three featured players were clearly attuned to one another. Fleck’s banjo sounds like a host of stringed instruments, from sitar to guitar to jangly familiar banjo, and his fingers wrest the nuances from the music like Orpheus playing to the Underworld. Meyer’s bass work displays his virtuosity as well, as he nimbly switches between acoustic hand played work, which sometimes rendered his fingers as a blur, and the sweet sinuous bowings, which complemented the work of the other musicians. The tabla is actually two drums, daya or dahina or table proper–meaning “right”—and baya or bahina or dagga–meaning “left.” The daya is tuned to Sa, the ground note of the raga, the tonic in Indian music . The baya is tuned about a fifth to an octave below that of the daya. The performer must use heel of the hand pressure to change the pitch and color of each drum during a performance. This makes the performance extremely interactive, and Hussain had to bring out his tuning hammer frequently enough between songs that Meyer made it a “bit”. The sense of humor was palpable, and is something I find abundant in world class musicians. When they introduced Chaurasia, our evening became complete.
The music became a brightly colored magic carpet taking us from Princeton, New Jersey, to a world bazaar with flavors familiar and strange, and one song they did announce was called “Happy Happy Drum Monkey” and Hanuman’s hands were in it, for certain. This was right before intermission and what a way to assure we’d be back!
The music after intermission gave the opportunity for the soloists to spread their wings, and during that time, Hussain had a particularly long featured solo. Chaurasia was someone with whom I was not familiar, but I found myself resolving to look for his work for friends this holiday season. These musicians played for nearly three hours, with only a brief break, and as we filed out into the misty rain, there seemed to be tendrils of the world bazaar attending us as we went back to our workaday lives. For myself, I will be eagerly awaiting the return of Fleck, Hussain, Meyer, and Chaurasia to again transcend the everyday.
One-night-only events like this abound, so you need to be on top of things! Contact the box office today at www.McCarter.org
or via telephone at 609/258-ARTS (2787).