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Fleck, Meyer, Hussain: Border Crossing

The world of music seems to have fewer and fewer borders these days. Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain are three players who regularly cross the frontier.

Banjoist Fleck has explored connections with African music, Hussain famously played his tabla with guitarist John McLaughlin in the group Shakti and Meyer can hang with both bluegrass players and Philharmonic orchestras. Now, all three have collaborated on a new album.

The Melody of Rhythm is a somewhat oxymoronic title. Does rhythm have a melody?

"Yes, absolutely," Hussain says. "In the case of the tabla, it's a very percussive instrument, so when I'm thinking of a particular rhythm pattern, I'm also thinking story and visual content. Therefore, a melodic element emerges, as well."

With so much talent in one place, naturally there's some stellar playing. Jacki Lyden wants to know: Who's faster, Hussain or Fleck?

"Zakir is the fastest," Fleck says. "He's very kind to slow down and simplify to play with us."

"I've always marveled at the way that banjo players with the right hand can play all these rhythmic ideas and have the melodic content come on the left hand," Hussain responds. "The rhythmic element of the banjo, I have to say, is some of the fastest."

'Lord And Commander'

Zakir and Hussain jokingly call bassist Edgar Meyer "lord and commander." He stands between a fast-picker and a high-pitched tabla player.

"Somebody's got to keep the ship going in the right direction," Meyer says.

Hussain is the son of the legendary tabla player Ustad Alla Rakha. When Hussain first started performing with McLaughlin, his father, like any traditionalist, was upset with his son for crossing over. Hussain continued to play in both worlds and his father eventually came around. But Hussain had to remind him once or twice that Ustad Alla Rakha had once recorded with jazz drummer Buddy Rich.

The centerpiece of the album is "The Melody of Rhythm," a triple concerto backed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

"The heart of the collaboration is the incredible weave of making this into an orchestral piece," Fleck says. "Edgar [Meyer] is an incredible composer. He was able to lead the way and kept us involved with every step."

"It's an ambition of ours to showcase our individual voices, but also really have a voice of its own," Meyer says.

"In a true collaboration, each person is changed somewhat," Fleck adds.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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