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Published: 2005/05/08
by Brian Gearing

Cosmic Hug – Fareed Haque Group

Magnatude Records 0505

Abandoning the intricate booty-shake of his day job in Garaj Mahal for a lighter, earthier groove, guitarist/sitarist Fareed Haque takes a ride to India and back on a musical magic carpet woven from both Eastern and Western threads on his group's debut disc. Equally transcendental and material, Cosmic Hug combines Haque’s familiar electric funk with the decidedly eastern sounds of Kalyan Pathak’s tablas and Haque’s own sitar to create a sound that, while occasionally flying a bit too far into New Age airspace, manages to keep its wandering spirit in the clouds and its feet rooted in melody and rhythm.

The prevailing organic grooves of Cosmic Hug start with "Gulab Jammin’," which takes a detour through Durbin, South Africa before continuing on its journey east. The guitar bobs its head to the tabla and bass foundation, and Haque’s sitar fireworks always yank the quick changes back to the song’s jazzy melody and lazy trance beat. Jon Paul’s big, fat bass line leads the way through tangled New Delhi streets on "Fade into Bolivian," but when the band hits the freeway and the lights go out, the bustling Western jazz alleys open up into starry skies filled with the twinkling of Dan Nimmer’s Rhodes piano and the steady, natural hum of Pathak’s ever-present tablas.

The world-jazz new-agism of "Pairs" drops into a steady, bouncing guitar vamp as Pathak shows off his eastern scat, and the song returns to its dull, contemporary jazz hook before Haque's razor-sharp guitar cuts it loose again. Also delving deeply into after-work jazz, "Fh/sk" rides the undulating tabla waves before Dan Leali raises the anchor on a dreamy, nighttime voyage over moonlit green hills outlined by the sitar's sparkling stellar light, and the shuffling, programmed beat of "Cosmic Hug" fades off into space as Haque's sitar and Paul's bass contrast J. Cappo's keyboard ambience.

The remaining songs on Cosmic Hug focus on the funky fusion grooves that will be familiar to fans of Garaj Mahal. "Lahara" alternates between uneasy disco and spooky, Bitches Brew atmospheres, while "Bird" works schizophrenically through Haque’s jigsaw guitar riffing and best John McLaughlin impressions. "Short Suite" melts the complexity of fusion and the smooth strut of bop into a calming potion that soothes the dissonant beast lurking on the fringes, and "Sassi Lassi" closes the disc with a frenetic disco workout.

While its instrumental textures are softer, the Fareed Haque Group lives and dies by its namesake's melodic grooves, just like that other band. When Haque or his partners can inject some life into his funky repetitions, the sound is hard to shake, but there are times when Cosmic Hug falls back into lazy, bland, smooth jazz. For the most part, however, those moments are few and far between, and Cosmic Hug could fly as easily on a carpet as on the couch or in the driver’s seat.

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