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Live, volume 1 – Garaj MahalLive, volume 2 – Garaj MahalLive, volume 3 – Garaj Mahal

Harmonized Records 006
Harmonized Records 007
Harmonized Records 008
Garaj Mahal gets ambitious in its own particular manner by releasing
three live discs, none of which is a complete show but a representation of
three performances. Each single disc represents one particular show:
Live, volume 1 from San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall on
August 23 2002; Live, volume 2 from Chicago’s Boulevard Cafn
August 13, 2002; and Live, volume 3 from Boulder’s Fox Theatre on May
11, 2002, during finals week. Each disc can be listened to as a unified
whole, or the three can be combined as a
three-disc set representing one long evening out. Overall, the approach
works. Any problems stem from the quartet straying from its positive musical
qualities, highlighted on Volume 2
Forget the chronology and allow the musical tapestry to weave its web.
Volume 1 immediately receives a boost with the addition of special
Zakir Hussain on tabla. What makes the addition is the manner in which
Hussain leads and incorporates his playing with drummer Alan Hertz,
Fareed Haque, keyboardist Eric Levy and bassist Kai Eckhardt. The tabla
naturally hypnotizes while the foursome plays around and over its beats.
an east-meet-west, fusion-meets-worldbeat moment that works throughout
the four tracks on this disc, especially "Gulam Sabri," which makes 17
minutes of instrumental interplay breeze by like five.
Throughout Volume 1, Garaj Mahal gives the impression of individuals
are beckoning the musical soul of Mahavishnu Orchestra to rain down upon
them. That’s not a knock, but a compliment. At times, Levy’s keyboard
contains that lushness and bounce of Jan Hammer, of that band’s original
incarnation. Other times, there are flavors reminiscent of the
Mahavishnu from the mid-‘80s and Jeff Beck’s Blow By Blow period.
Volume 2 revolves in a dual role. It’s the middle of the set, so
there’s that lull the sometimes appears when an artist indulges in more
material from the less-familiar new album or takes a musical path that
doesn’t have whipsnap intensity featured during the earlier segment of the
evening. It also provides a silly "middle eight" to the proceedings, which
may have been fun for those in attendance. But, I’m writing this minus a few
beers on a hot August night, when this disc was recorded, so the frivolity
isn’t causing any sparks.
In this case, Garaj Mahal adds vocals and a funky groove to a couple of
its six tracks. It’s a place that the members shouldn’t inhabit. It’s not a
knock on the members’ voices. Hell, if I brought over a voice professor,
he’d possibly rip many of our favorite singers, and possibly surprise
us with major praise on others. It’s just that Garaj Mahal showed on
Volume 1 that
they have major strengths as players, using the common instrumental arsenal
of guitar/bass/keyboards/drums. When it comes to vocal tracks, such as the
opening duo of "Cosmic Elevator" and "Poodle Vamp" (that aims to be like
Adrian Belew’s story ala King Crimson’s "Thela Hun Ginjeet",), there isn’t
very much that’s said. The lyrics are step backward for those who live in
Garaj. "Ivory Tower" from Volume 1 and ‘Thursday’ on Volume 3
work a
bit better.
One can hear the talent oozing through the speakers during the moments
when Garaj Mahal lean on the instrumental. Further displaying
the group’s ability to weave power out of a melody minus vocals is their
on Madonna’s "Material Girl," which concludes Volume 3. In the opening
minute, I couldn’t help but wonder, "Is that what I think it is?" When I
realized that it was, the group’s take on the song became more impressive.
Whether they meant to or not, Garaj Mahal infused the number with a
certain beauty, not one that needed to be presented over nearly 20 minutes,
but a calmness and delicacy that would never be discussed when viewing that
particular bit of early Madonna dance pop.
Earlier on Volume 3 the band returns to the musical model that
appeared on Volume 1 — lively and appealing instrumentals with
musicianship offering nods towards their influences. It’s much too easy to
taken in by the groove set forth by "7-Up" or the build up of "Never Give
and the fantastic African-flavored "Stoked on Razaki."
It makes for a very good way to finish the night — or end a three-disc set.

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