By: Josh Potter
Ah, remember when funky, instrumental music wasn't simply lumped in with other bands that "jammed" and actually got the credit it deserved for all the crazy influences it drew upon? Garaj Mahal does. It's been no secret amongst Mahalics, either, that the San Francisco-Chicago quartet deals in some of the most perplexing arrangements and rubber-burning grooves of any band around. The band's first release since 2005's Blueberry Cave is proof positive.
Woot (released September 9 on Owl Records) receives a superb touch of retro-futuristic production and posits the album squarely in the late '70s. Just exactly where they land in that era is one of the album's charms. Rather than the Afro/coke-glasses Miles stuff, the band conjures neon-chrome Herbie Hancock and Martian metropolis Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Nowhere is it more evident than in Eric Levy's keys. Burbling Moog solos erupt out of the most unlikely places, like in the funk round-up "Hotel." Amid trombone soloing and scratching turntablism, Levy launches B and C sections with swelling synth.
Guitarist Fareed Haque uses the tune "Pundit-Ji" in much the way John McLaughlin might. With sitar-ish 32nd notes, he springs a proggy mind-fuck of arpeggios. This multi-lingual bent extends into the Klezmer voyage "Ishmael and Isaac," where the highlight comes in the band's telepathic return from drummer Sean Rickman's solo late in the composition. As for bass virtuoso Kai Eckhardt, 1 minute 50 seconds of "Bass Solo" should be all any naysayer need hear.
While the band's penchant for funk ("Uptown Tippitina's") might suggest a devil-may-care mentality, this couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, it's the band's conscious (dare I say, cosmic) sensibilities that round out its many dimensions. "Jamie's Jam" is a gorgeous celebration of hammered-dulcimer mystic Jamie Janover that begins with an oblique meditation and gives way to fleet melodic unison passages.
With technical mastery and compositional innovation, Woot isn't the kind of album a band creates so much as earns. No doubt, Garaj Mahal deserves this one.
JamBase | Fusion-verse
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