If You Happen To Be In Chennai (Or These Other South Indian Cities)

 

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Recently the New Yorker posted news that was music to the ears of all banjo-lovers.  Most baby boom-aged Americans know who Steve Martin is, but many did/do not know he is a seriously talented banjoist–he does not just use the instrument as a comedic prop. A smaller subset of Americans know who Edie Brickell is (not just that she is Mrs. Paul Simon), but they remember her music with the New Bohemians with intense affection.  She disappeared for a while, but she is back, and back with Steve Martin of all people:

Of the rushing river of records heading toward us, there are two I’d like to mention, one imminent and one on the horizon: “Love Has Come for You,” by Edie Brickell and Steve Martin, which arrives in April…Brickell and Martin’s record is a banjo-and-singer collaboration, a form without many footprints…

Anyone who loves banjo is almost by definition a lover of collaboration, which is why we pay attention to this particular instrument more than most. This got us thinking: What is Béla Fleck up to these days?  If you do not know who he is, and you at least like the banjo, you should find out by clicking the banner above. And to our delighted surprise, he is playing gigs near us in south India over the next few weeks.  After the jump below, you can see the schedule, and also you will get a sense of what we mean by banjo collaboration.

Saturday, February 9, 2013
Béla Fleck w/ Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain @ TBA
Chennai, TN (India) – Map
Set: 8:00 PM
All Ages
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Béla Fleck w/ Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain @ TBA
Bangalore, (India) – Map
Set: 8:00 PM
All Ages
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Béla Fleck w/ Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain @ TBA
Dubai, (United Arab Emirates) – Map
Set: 8:00 PM
All Ages
Saturday, February 16, 2013
Béla Fleck w/ Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain @ TBA
Goa, GA (India) – Map
Set: 8:00 PM
All Ages
Friday, February 22, 2013
Béla Fleck w/ Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain @ TBA
Mumbai, MH (India) – Map
Set: 8:00 PM
All Ages
Monday, February 25, 2013
Béla Fleck w/ Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain @ TBA
Muscat, (Oman) – Map
Set: 8:00 PM
All Ages
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Béla Fleck w/ Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain @ TBA
Muscat, (Oman) – Map
Set: 8:00 PM
All Ages
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Béla Fleck w/ Edgar Meyer and Zakir Hussain @ TBA
Mumbai, MH (India) – Map
Set: 8:00 PM
All Ages
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 04:  (Exclusive Coverage) Steve Martin, Edie Brickell and The Steep Canyon Rangers perform on stage at the Children's Health Fund 25th Anniversary Concert at Radio City Music Hall on October 4, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 04: (Exclusive Coverage) Steve Martin, Edie Brickell and The Steep Canyon Rangers perform on stage at the Children’s Health Fund 25th Anniversary Concert at Radio City Music Hall on October 4, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

From the New Yorker blog post, continued (click the photo above to go to the source):

…They draw several of their references from bluegrass and old-time banjo styles and from modal forms, the type of reserve that Gillian Welch and David Rawlings have visited and absorbed by a different, more plainspoken route. It’s a capacious reserve, though restricted compared to, say, jazz, with its often much broader instrumentation and more complicated harmonic structures.

Bluegrass, like jazz and blues, is an original American music, made initially by cranky, withered, and sometimes mean-spirited white men drawing on two-part tunes, played mostly on fiddles. The bulk of the tunes were brought from Scotland and Ireland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. That they could be played at a feral, aggressive tempo was mainly the idea of Bill Monroe. In the nineteen-forties, Monroe established the form of a bluegrass band—guitar and bass in the rhythm section and the leads played by the mandolin, which was Monroe’s instrument, the fiddle, and the banjo. Sometimes there were two fiddles, but otherwise the arrangement never deviated. Earl Scruggs, who first played in Monroe’s band, used a stuttery, syncopated style called Scruggs style that became the template for bluegrass banjo playing. Bluegrass grew into a technically pitiless, rural chamber music, very demanding and insistent on proper form. Electric instruments can conceal shortcomings in technique by means of tone; acoustic stringed instruments can’t. Bluegrass musicians listen for clarity of tone as closely as classical musicians do, and if you buzz a fret or scrape a bow you’re a poseur. Martin’s playing is lyrical and reserved, and it swings. In addition to Scruggs style, he plays a style called clawhammer, which uses thumb and fingernails—Scruggs style uses a thumb pick and two steel finger picks. Clawhammer is older, a mountain style that’s more spare, moodier, and a little more plaintive, and is typically played more slowly than Scruggs style. It’s the style that Pete Seeger helped make popular on his long-neck banjo.

Brickell is perhaps not sufficiently appreciated as a singer. She has a lush, whispery voice and a Texas accent. Her manner is confidential and artless. She likes to stretch words out so that they resonate. Her pitch is precise and her diction is clear. She manages to sing as if she were speaking intimately to another person, the way actors in Shakespeare manage, by means of breathing and pace, to deliver lines as if the thoughts they contain had just occurred to them. There is a gentleness and a lonesome, hopeful quality to her singing that suggests someone who sings to herself without the intention of entertaining, who would sing regardless of whether or not there was an audience.

The song I listen to most often is the first one on the record, “When You Get to Asheville.” It begins with a rising, elegiac banjo line, like something you might play to remember someone, then Brickell sings, “When you get to Asheville, send me an e-mail, tell me how you’re doing, how it’s treating you.” Someone has left, and there is a vibrancy in her voice that makes it sound as if she is managing to preserve herself, though part of her feels the loss.

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