The Berklee Performance Center is one of the many venues that Berklee students idolize. With 1,200+ seats, the spotlight, and the stage that has held phenomenal artists like John Mayer, Paul Simon, and Victor Wooten, who wouldn’t want to perform there?
Nevertheless, the show that took place at the packed BPC last Sunday on September 30th, to officially close out the Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival, wasn’t performed by a wide-eyed Berklee student who hopes to follow in the footsteps of the greats who have stood on that same stage. The mind-blowing display of top-notch musicianship was from none other than Béla Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio.
Béla Fleck, who has been nominated in more Grammy Awards categories than any other artist, is easily one of the most influential and technically proficient banjo players in the world. Naturally, he wouldn’t team up with just anyone. Joining him on stage was flawless and seasoned jazz pianist, Marcus Roberts, and the members of the Marcus Roberts Trio, including bassist Rodney Jordan and drummer Jason Marsalis, who both showed equal amounts of immaculate technique and overwhelming passion.
Contesting to the fact that some of the most incredibly talented and experienced performers in the world were on one stage, performing tunes not only from the recently released and progressively beautiful collaboration album from Fleck and Roberts’ trio, “Across the Imaginary Divide”, it can be said without a doubt that the genre of music performed that night cannot be filed under one category. Yet, how could it? If you know anything about Béla Fleck, you would know that he has a history of using his banjo as more than just an instrument and more as an innovative tool to delve into more than just the bluegrass that the banjo is most popularly known for, but traditional and progressive jazz, and even ragtime, as well. If you know anything about Marcus Roberts (and if you don’t then you absolutely should), then you would know that he is one of the most charismatic, energetic, and technically spectacular jazz pianists in the world. Put those two together on stage (or even on the recently released album), and you’re sure to get music that was treated with care, precision, and creativity all at the same time. With Fleck and the trio up on that stage together, we were sure to get magic. And magic was just what we got.
Clearly stunned by the sheer amount of perfection dished out even in just the first song, it was one of the first times that I have heard a crowd in the BPC absolutely silent… and I understood why. Now, let me be the first to say that I am not a jazzhead. I spent the summer in Nashville soaking in as much bluegrass and country music as I could (and I’ve got to say… I sure do love the banjo), but jazz is often a genre that is lost upon me… and unrightfully so. Béla Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio, with gorgeous songs such as Fleck’s original tune, “One Blue Truth”, brought together a crowd (myself enthusiastically included, I might add) who still believe that music can be more than just a typical One Direction or Justin Bieber song. The music played that night was music that is sophistically crafted, and when played, Béla and each member of the trio took their turns with solos (that were all absolutely stunning and demonstrated talent far, far beyond what is typically seen in live performances these days) and didn’t attempt to outshine each other at all – something that is extremely refreshing when compared to many shows around Berklee.
These are musicians that know music like the back of their hands and depend on the music to put on a show. They don’t have a fancy light show, they don’t have one person acting as the most important person on stage, they don’t have 13 different keyboards and drum machines, and they don’t even have lyrics. All they had that night were their instruments and their talent. Béla Fleck didn’t even sit center stage. Marcus Roberts, who unintentionally stole the show through his mind-blowing playing in every song, didn’t even introduce himself when introducing the band.
While I am still a country music lover at heart and don’t need much more than three chords and a good hook to make me happy, Béla Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio’s performance wasn’t just a show; it was a musical experience; and that, my fellow musicians, is something we should all strive to create much, much more of.
Article by Alyssa McCord
For more Béla Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio, check out these links below:
Béla Fleck – Official Website
Marcus Roberts Trio – Official Website
Purchase “Across the Imaginary Divide”