Words & Images by Bill Clifford
Garaj Mahal :: 09.28.07 :: The Main Pub :: Manchester, CT
Connecticut has never really had a reputation as a live music hotspot, situated as it is, between Boston and NYC. However, over the last three years The Main Pub in Manchester has become a significant stop for acts, as opposed to the whole state being used as a highway run between the two Meccas. The Pub's fare is several notches above standard bar food and always features a wide selection of cold beer and tempting liquors, and the décor is warm, alluring Old English style.
| Jonathan Herrera :: 09.28 :: Connecticut|
San Francisco's Garaj Mahal drew quite a crowd to the Main Pub for this Friday night prior to a Saturday night show at NYC's Knitting Factory. The band seemed to be in high spirits and delighted with the turnout on this very short East Coast run. But, fans were disappointed to see that bassist Kai Eckhardt wasn't with them, opting instead to take another gig. Temporarily filling in was Bass Player Magazine Senior Editor Jonathan Herrera (Petalpusher). The rest of the quartet - Fareed Haque (guitars), Alan Hertz (drums) and Eric Levy (keys) - were all present.
Hertz got the music started with a slow and funky beat, which was picked up on by the rest of the quartet. "7-Up" began the night on a jazzy, bubbly groove, on which no one really stood out, instead, serving as a live sound check. The open floor quickly filled in once the music began, and the moving and grooving got underway. The band found open space for improvisation and loose jams on "Celtic Indian," which included mellow but jazzy guitar from Haque and a drum jam from Hertz where the tempo rose and dropped and rose again, lifting the energy level in the small room several times. "Be Dope" brought the funk that got feet moving, including a small portion of the crowd apparently just out for a Friday night meal. Levy danced from one synthesizer to another, coaxing cosmic, atmospheric, high pitched sounds and a playful groove with Haque.
Haque asked, "Shall we give it a go?" as he introduced a new song, "Pundit Ji," which he dedicated to "the great Bansuri, bamboo flute player." Herrera and Levy seemed to enjoy each other's musical virtuosity here, enthusiastically bounding up and down the musical scales and flashing smiles. "Massive" closed the first set with a deep, thumping bassline, Herrera's hands running rampantly up and down the frets as Haque added Middle Eastern flourishes. The tempo was fast while the mood was dense, ambient and psychedelic. One for the rave kids.
The crowd thinned between sets as the locals returned home. Most had no idea what they were leaving as the second set was looser and more improvisational. Even sans the extraordinary talents of Eckhardt, these four musicians moved effortlessly from classic jazz into New Orleans swing into acid jazz. A pulsating bass and jumpy, yet rhythmic keyboards made "The Paladin" one of the most uptempo, dance worthy songs of the night that left Levy grinning from ear-to-ear behind his keyboards.
| Fareed Haque :: 09.28 :: Connecticut|
The mood mellowed on the somber, reflective "Uptown Tipitina's," Levy's composition dedicated to the legendary New Orleans haunt. His keyboard flourishes here were dense and heavy, yet bluesy and soulful. Each musician was given ample room to solo here, and this song received one of the strongest responses of the night. "Poodle Factory" was marked by discordance and abstract funk so heavy on the low end it rattled the walls, while "Hotel," a more traditional jazz number, slowed the pace.
A highlight of this performance was the Middle Eastern flavored "Folk Song," which featured Haque on a "guisitar," an acoustic guitar with an extra neck and additional strings that produced a sound similar to sitar or harpsichord. He plucked and strummed the unique instrument, creating the equivalent of a wordless chant that sometimes resembled a whale song. The crowd, which had now disappointingly dwindled to around 25, responded with cheers and warm applause that brought them back for encore of the "The Chicken."
Each of these four musicians demonstrated amazing dexterity and talent throughout the evening. While it was disappointing Eckhardt wasn't on this tour, his temporary replacement was certainly a fine bassist on the same page as Garaj Mahal. It was a special treat to have the band on the East Coast in the intimate confines of one of Connecticut's best new music venues.
JamBase | Connecticut
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