Garaj Mahal | 01.29.04 | Lincoln Theatre | Raleigh, NC
"Sometimes I feel kinda funky." This apt phrase from bassist Kai Eckhardt launched Garaj Mahal's worldfunk onslaught upon the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh, NC. The four-piece fusion steamroller chugged into town at the beginning of a Southern swing in support of their first studio album Mondo Garaj. Recorded in 2000-2001, but only recently released on Harmonized Records (along with three live albums), the CD includes songs written by all four members of the band. Featuring Fareed Haque on guitar, Eric Levy on keyboards, Eckhardt on bass, and Alan Hertz on drums, Garaj Mahal knows few equals in their mastery of their instruments. Coaxing out a sound drifting from jazz to dancehall, they're pushing the influences of the past into the rhythms of the future.
After opening with "Break Out," they rolled into "Ivory Tower," featuring Eckhardt's sultry boogie bass line and rapped lyrics. A beautifully fragmented guitar solo by Haque saw him gliding through frenzied lines and piercing chord groupings. Levy's delicate comping filled in the sound before he switched to a sparse flute tone to open the next number. Hertz joined in on noise-jazz percussion, banging away as Haque emerged with some Jerry-esque spacey dissonant guitar descents in full vibe-a-delic effect. Slowly the song revealed itself as the Beatles' psychedelic masterpiece "Tomorrow Never Knows." The keys handled the melody in this instrumental version, later switching to the guitar to replicate the vocal line. This discordant, dreamy rendition was simultaneously abstract, atmospheric, and aggressive.
Eckhardt & Haque by Tony Stack
Hertz's funky drums dropped into the off-tempo pounding of "The Shadow." Eckhardt unleashed a huge bass solo, augmenting his flourishes with flares and kicks. Garaj Mahal has the ability to go right from huge classic rock jams seamlessly into a free jazz or bop mode. A subconscious nod of the head is all that's needed as the band stops on a dime and changes direction. The quality of the songwriting ensures these changes are always tasteful and never sound contrived. Throughout the song Eckhardt had a beaming smile, constantly nodding encouragement to both the crowd and the band. He often seems to be Garaj Mahal's number-one fan.
"Corner Piece," as in, "We're rounding the corner" was up next. This song is catchy in a disco-jazz modern funk kind of way, at once accessible yet deep, amicable yet disturbing. Haque tore off another crackling, bubbling guitar solo in this song, proving his chops all over again to a crowd that had never doubted him. His funky rhythms matched with Eckhardt's popping bass to introduce "Be Dope." The odd meter kept the dancers off balance as they bucked and weaved through the slalom of chord changes.
Garaj Mahal by Tony Stack
They followed with "Thursday" which led into the set-closing "Massive." Accurately named, this song took listeners into a deep, dark techno groove. The humble Lincoln Theatre was briefly transported to downtown London as the spinning lights and pulsating bass blasts enveloped the audience. Haque's flickering rhythmic utterances were reinforced deftly by the driving thump of Hertz's drums. The band embarked on a long, extrapolated journey in this version, migrating from one section to the next like prehistoric jammer-gatherers. Eckhardt's so-funky bass fluttered through the darkness, attempting to maintain a signal light to mark the path.
They returned for the encore and burst into one of their most popular songs, "Gulam Sabri." They grabbed hold of all of their world music roots for this one. Hertz's drums flew between jazz nuances and funky backbeats as Haque's guitar picked out the soaring melody. Eckhardt took another of his manic bass solos, letting the band fall into place behind him as the bottom end led the way through the musical maze. Finally, after squeezing out every last drop they could from the song, they wrapped it up with a drum solo. And with that, Garaj Mahal made their way down the road, heading for another show and another crack at shaking the world upside down and seeing what falls out.
For more information and sound samples go to www.garajmahal.net.
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