Savannah Music Festival review: Bela Fleck, Edgar Mayer, and Zakir Hussain

“Nobody’s ever stayed for the second set before,” Bela Fleck lied, eliciting a lot of laughter from the adoring Lucas Theatre audience, after he, Edgar Mayer, Zakir Hussain took the stage after intermission.

The visual of the three master musicians was pretty striking: Fleck seemed dressed appropriately for a backyard BBQ — sometimes he played the banjo with an air of smiling disregard, at other times with closed-eyes intensity; Mayer at first seemed stiff by comparison, locked to his towering upright bass, but then for certain passages, his whole body flowed with loose, languid movement; Hussain on the raised platform to Mayer’s left looked at times like a kid just having fun with his tabla, and then he would let loose with a furious passage, the quickness defying human limits.

A couple of people have told me since the show that the trio’s performance was not just one of their favorite Savannah Music Festival concerts, but one of their favorite concerts ever.

The first half of the show seemed to rely a little more heavily on the incredibly diverse banjo of Fleck, who is making a career of cross-genre collaboration like his appearance on Tuesday night with the Marcus Roberts Trio. You can read my review of that performance here. The second half of the show seemed to me to bring the bass forward more — I couldn’t take my eyes off Mayer when he was drawing sounds from the bass so that it seemed just an extension of his own skin, especially as he played Bach. And the tabla too pushed forward at times — Hussain’s control of wrist and palm and fingers made the drums sound sometimes like they were immersed in water, other times so light that they seemed ready to take flight.

The trio did a number of songs off their Melody of Rhythm CD, including “Bahar,” “Cadence,” and “In Conclusion.” They also did a rollicking version of Fleck’s composition “Happy Drum Drum Monkey Girl.” Here’s a clip of that song:

I don’t know how such clips come across to someone watching and listening on a home computer. In person, the performance was simply hypnotic. It was even better since I had snagged front row seats, again. There’s always someone who says, “Wow, you have good seats.” I want to reply, “That’s because I look at the program when it’s posted and buy them as soon as online sales start.” There’s no magic to getting good seats in Savannah.

It was a pretty long show, which I can’t imagine anyone minded. Each half was almost an hour, and the intermission was about 25 minutes. But we had tickets to the Avett Brothers show at Johnny Mercer Theatre, so we jetted out as soon as the crowd rose as one to its feet at the end of the second set. We missed the encore, regrettably, but we would have missed the Avetts entirely if we had stayed for that. It’s too bad that the Fleck/Hussain/Mayer show didn’t start at 7, which would have made the Wednesday night double dip of major shows a little easier, but the Avett Brothers were booked relatively late and there’s nothing that the SMF could have done at that point.

More on the Avett Brothers in the next post.

More too on Hussain’s performance Thursday night with other Indian masters. I’ve already noted here that Hussain’s Masters of Percussion has been booked for the 2012 SMF.