Contextually speaking, a group bringing together the American, European, and Indian sounds of banjo, tabla, double bass, and wooden flute might seem a strange musical quilt. Then again, the parties involved in the new power trio of banjoist extraordinaire Béla Fleck, tabla master Zakir Hussain, and double bassist Edgar Meyer — abetted by the great bamboo flutist Rakesh Chaurasia — include musicians well accustomed to musical border crossings and genre crosstalk.
As demonstrated in an inspiring concert at Campbell Hall last Saturday, the flavors of India, Nashville, Appalachia, and beyond came together in a beautiful way, turning the disparate into the integrated. The salient effect was more visceral and ear-tasty than an intellectual enterprise, a sign of success in the fragile world of music hybridizing.
Opening with “Bubbles,” the group called on rhythmically intricate but melodic tunes often so new that they remain as yet untitled, as well as material culled from each player’s songbook. Standouts included Meyer’s 36-year-old “Long Ago,” Fleck’s “D Minor,” and Hussain’s “Pashto,” in fitting homage to the practice of Hindustani musicians playing with British Isles military musicians in the 19th century.
One fascinating line of rapport involved the kinship of Fleck and Hussain, who bring wizardly energy forces and puckish humor to their playing. Banjo is a percussive instrument strung on a drumhead, and tabla is a venerable, highly melodic, and detail-oriented drum tradition, and within that inter-polarity, something magical bubbles up the Fleck/Hussain alliance.
Call it Indo-grass fusion, for lack of a better term. Or, to quote the title of Hussain’s supple, sweet tune written for another worldly virtuoso comrade, guitarist John McLaughlin, just call it a bold act of naturally elastic, exploratory virtuosos “Making Music.”