Garaj Mahal, Nectar Lounge, Seattle, WA- 12/1
As the first snowfall in Seattle dissipated into a cold drizzle, Garaj Mahal settled into steamy Nectar Lounge in Fremont for a night of funk and groove. Touring in support of their second studio effort, Blueberry Cave, this four-piece outfit from San Francisco drew a loyal following of “Mahalics” for a night of genre-bending, textured world-beat, jazz-groove-fusion. Since their inception in 2000, Garaj Mahal has matured into a patient, experienced quartet allowing their music to unfold gracefully in tune with the energies of their typically fervent audiences. This night was no different as the group slowly picked up the pace and intensity throughout the performance.
Led by the superb rhythm section of bassist Kai Eckhardt and drummer Alan Hertz (of KVHW fame), Garaj Mahal builds on a solid bass foundation with melodic keyboard fills from Eric Levy and virtuosic guitar and sitar by Fareed Haque. With Eckhardt growing up in Germany and West Africa and Fareed of Pakistani descent, a world music spices up the jazz-groove inspirations of Hertz and Levy. This blend of influences is especially apparent during the opener “Bicycling in Bombay,” as gentle sitar riffs gave way to thumping bass and a driven drum beat. Like the other songs performed off the new album, it transferred very cleanly to the live performance setting losing a bit of its studio polish in favor of a dirtier, grittier funk style.
The highlight of the first set came from another album track, “Celtic Indian.” Perhaps the most danceable of the newer tunes, this song features a fluttery, whimsical keyboard fill by Eric Levy that would not be out of place in a Legend of Zelda video game. This song also showcased the remarkable scatting abilities of Haque and Eckhardt as they harmonized perfectly building off each others’ melody until climaxing in a frenzy of notes. The first set ended abruptly, allowing the band and audience to catch its breath in anticipation of another stellar set.
Opening back up with “Nasty,” a slap-happy, gritty funk song, the band prepped the audience for the more upbeat, groovy set to come. The high point of the show came with the cheesy titled “No’Spect”, a super groovy, hard-hitting bass driven song that showcased Kai Eckhardt’s full range as a bass player. The song began with a spoken word, anti-greed rap by Haque and quickly picked up its tempo and intensity culminating in a fevered call and answer improvisation between Eckhardt and Levy. This jam was extremely emblematic of the band’s new direction employing trance-like drumbeats similar to those used by Sound Tribe Sector Nine and Particle.
Overall, it was an enjoyable show as Garaj Mahal always presents a good mixture of new ideas and old funky standbys. The expanded light show was particularly effective in the small confines of the typically dull-lit Nectar, as the lights reflected off the exposed ceiling casting shadows on the upper balcony. The show demonstrated the band’s evolution as a unit in the same manner the new album does with its focus on trance-like, world influenced dance music.