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Published: 2003/11/28
by Pat Buzby

Mondo Garaj – Garaj Mahal

Harmonized Records 010

After seeing Jazz Is Dead around '98, my quip was

that a more appropriate name would have been "Fusion Is

Dead. " As those guys were among the first to prove,

though, reports of fusion's death were greatly

exaggerated. Lately, while some folks in the jamband

world have tried newer-fangled combinations of jazz

and rock, some have simply brought fusion around to us

again. For a 70s' devotee like me, that's not a bad

thing, but too often these groups are a bit too apt to

repeat the mistakes of the past.

Garaj Mahal teams two veterans (guitarist Fareed

Haque and bassist Kai Eckhardt), who have put in time

alongside the venerable fusioneers Joe Zawinul and

John McLaughlin, with two younger guns (keyboardist Eric

Levy and drummer Alan Hertz), and it's pleasing to see

the foursome hitting the road to reach young audiences

in a way that veteran types are seldom inclined to do.

After a few live discs, Mondo Garaj finds them taking

it to the studio.

Within two minutes of the start of the title

track, Haque and Levy have faced off for dueling

solos, and a fun time seems in store. Unfortunately,

this moment proves to be a highlight rather than a

mere introduction. The fault isn't the playing —

Haque shows again that he's fully qualified to take on

bebop, funk and Indian flavorings, and Levy gets

around his analog setup like the last three decades

never happened. Eckhardt and Hertz are a chopsy and

solid-grooving rhythm section, although, on this

particular outing, they don't get to display a lot of


As was common in the old days, though, the

writing is less provocative than the playing. "New

Meeting" hints at Mahavishnu-esque agitation, and

tracks like "Junct" and "Bajo" deliver slow grooves

and esoteric hooks that could have been good starting

points for a Led Zep song. Often, though, they only

seem to offer about one-third of a composition.

If concept, writing and playing are what make a

band, Garaj Mahal, like most fusion bands, come up

strongest in the last department, and, also like most

fusion bands, they appear to be most likely to indulge

in unbridled playing onstage. So check them out

onstage, and save this disc to take home to mother, or

the radio stations.

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