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Published: 2003/03/09
by Dan Alford

Garaj Mahal, Tribeca, NYC- 3/7

Garaj Mahal is like a band of heroes. In fact, they are the Super Friends. They are a force for positivity in the world, a glowing standard of love and good energy. They are a group made of persons with varied, downright international backgrounds, each bringing his talents to mix, and together they are something much more than their individual skills. So often Fareed Haque comments that this group is where the magic happens, that he has played with so many great jazz musicians and it is with Kai Eckhardt, Alan Hertz and Eric Levy that the music moves him most. The talent, the love, the mutual admiration, the adventures, and don't forget a healthy helping of campy humor- there can be no doubt that Garaj Mahal is the musical Super Friends for the 21st century.

Due to a very late start the band (which Fareed called "Garaj Ma-stall") played one long set for the first of two shows at Tribeca in New York. It was such a late start that Alan and Kai began a jam into the opening Be Dope while the house music was still playing. When the song itself materialized it was cloaked in an intensely heavy groove. Eric played a nice lead early on, beginning with the synth and moving to the electric piano effects of his Yamaha, and Fareed began the second movement with a nice rhythm lick. Allowing the progression to run its course, he built it to a plateau and watched it dissolve into arrhythmic, but somehow syncopated, discord. Alan and Kai suddenly pulled it all back together and the groove was even harder. This was an interesting version because of its slower gait and full sound- it was not a sharp assault fueled by rhythm guitar- and it set the tone for the night. The entire set was characterized by very deep grooves and a laid backed feeling. Alvin, an MMW sounding joint also played early in the set, probably epitomized the vibe with its long, meandering central solo from Fareed. It rambled and skipped, straying far from the course, but never became too wild.

The highlights of the show included a nice pairing of Never Give Up > The Chicken. The Eckhardt composition began with a fine, warm bass solo, Kai rolling over the frets before creating the richest sounds by quickly thumb picking, then slapping, the strings.
The mid-song jam dipped back into the deep groove, light rhythm from Fareed, steady, solid drumming, resounding bass and light, fanciful organ all working to make it happen. At a shift the tempo increased and Fareed rocketed out in front, Alan staying close by with similar runs and flourishes. The tune finished, but the funk wasn't done yet ("Are you down with the funk?" Kai called from the stage), and a transition jam morphed into The Chicken after a few bars. At one point early on, Fareed ran over the standard's hook repeatedly, as though it were end of the song, and slyly slipped into a lead- top-notch musicianship.

Another highlight was Poodle Factory > Hindi Gumbo. The latter was high flying Garaj Mahal at its best while the former included a lengthy "poodlepoodlefactorypoodlepoodlefactory" middle mumble from Fareed and Eric as Kai leaned into his monitor and soloed- again, very chill and strangely alluring. The intro babble included a story about Fareed's wife approaching a poodle grooming society and videotape wherein a poodle's testicles were shaved. "Do you want to go to the Poodle Factory? You never know what they're going to shave." Rounding out the set was another pair of tunes, Cosmic Elevator > Meatless Patty. Both tunes were long, especially Meatless Patty, with more of the heavy vibrations and slick, now more furious leads. The piece de resistance, however, was Gulam Sabri, which was dedicated to all the families living in Baghdad who are going suffer under our own war mongering. Fareed picked up his gistar, a cross between a guitar and a sitar, a tool loaded with resonant strings, and led the way into an impassioned, almost cataclysmic performance. It was one of the most powerful humanitarian statements I've ever heard. Like I said, the Super Friends.

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