Garaj Mahal, The Knitting Factory, NYC- 9/27
Garaj Mahal was a man down for all but the first of its seven date Northeast swing in late September, a fact that seemed doubly sad because the band almost never plays north of Virginia anyone, even when it does make it to the right coast. Bassist Kai Eckhardt was recording a Turkish pop album, earning thousands and thousands of rupees. Eckhardt's warm, revelatory sound would certainly be missed, except that his replacement, John Herrera, editor of Bass Player magazine, was a perfect fit. He knew the songs, with all their complicated shifts and weird time signatures, and was immediately shooting looks across the stage while chasing down a guitar lick or sneaking in behind a flurry of keyboard notes. But mostly, he seemed to know just where the GM groove lives and how to help it grow. From the opening tune right through the encore, "The Paladin," Herrera dropped shaking notes and pulled out amazing solos- I didn't know his work before the tour, but no one could have done a better job filling Kai's deep shoes.
Drummer Alan Hertz also laced the night with his solos, landing most of them near the end of songs like the early "7 Up." He was also full of stories about bars, Bostonians, rooming with keyboardist Eric Levy, and other chatter. He introduced the signature GM tune "Celtic Indian"by saying, "Imagine the Mahavishnu Orchestra in your local Irish pub,tipping his hat to (guitar god and Kai's former band mate) John McLaughlin," who was also in town. The song pushed the performance to a new level as Fareed Haque took his custom guisitar for a flashy solo intro. The opening passage hit full force, Herrera driving a thunderous wave punctuated with one low, hanging note. The collective energy continued to build during Fareed's solo, and when he passed it on to Levy, the music rocketed forward in a shower of organ and synth effects. Herrera moved behind Alan's kit and dipped down into the pocket, the pair driving at the finale over and over- Fareed attacked that short, beautifully floating solo that caps the song three separate times.
While the stage was still buzzing, and the crowd cheering, Levy began to toy with a more somber tone. The rest of the band picked it up without a moment's hesitation, setting in on a powerful version of "Junct." The drum and bass duo swelled with each movement, pushing the leads to greater and greater fury, as Levy worked on a particularly twisted solo mid-song that drew in the rest of the quartet for a gigantic climax.
At some point, maybe just before the show closing "Hotel," someone shouted, "Play New York more often!" to which Fareed immediately responded, "Make more friends!"To be fair, though, if Garaj Mahal played at this level in NYC half a dozen times in a year, they'd have plenty more friends of their own.