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In SyncFleck, Hussain & Meyer, photo by Jim McGuire


Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain meld styles — and sometimes minds — on their current tour

By Jimmy Magahern

There are times, on his current 19-city tour of North America with double-bass virtuoso Edgar Meyer and tabla master Zakir Hussain, when Béla Fleck will take off on his instrument – in his hands, the banjo has evolved into something deserving of a more sophisticated title — and Hussain will instinctively follow along, matching Fleck’s mercurial soloing beat for note. Over Meyer’s melodic bedrock, the banjo revolutionist and the innovating Indian percussionist match each other’s playing like double guitarists in a southern rock band, at once adding both a percussive flavor to Fleck’s banjo trills and a melodic facet to each of Hussain’s tabla strikes.

It’s this synchronicity of musical elements that gives meaning to the name of the trio’s current best-selling classical album, The Melody of Rhythm. When masters of divergent instruments find a common groove, rhythm sings and melody rocks.

But how much of this musical mind-meld is rehearsed, and how much is magic? Given all three players’ penchant for improvisation, how is it possible for, say, Fleck to switch from rapid-fire runs up the fret board to slower, more expressive lines without Hussain once missing an accent?

“One of Zakir’s great talents is jumping on rhythmic ideas almost instantly,” Fleck explains. “When I am soloing, he seems to read my mind and knows what I am shooting for instinctively.”

The oneness achieved in the studio is now being heightened on the road, as the tour featuring Fleck, long-time collaborator Meyer and new partner Hussain rolls into the Mesa Arts Center October 20. Fleck credits the trio’s tightness to a kind of tuneful telepathy.

“It sounds like its been set up in advance, but it is impromptu,” he insists.

Of course, not all of The Melody of Rhythm is instinctively in-sync. The centerpiece of the album is a classical composition in three movements, accompanied on record by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Leonard Slatkin. In those passages, the improvisation of the three soloists is supported by carefully crafted parts for each section of the orchestra.

In a wink, though, the music pares back down to the leads, and once again it’s anyone’s guess what’s written on the charts or snatched from thin air.

Figuring out which is which is part of the fun of the Fleck, Meyer and Hussain tour, Fleck says.

“Some is impromptu; other sections are composed,” he says. “Those are usually easy to spot!”

Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain bios