Listen to Garaj Mahal's Mondo Garaj on JamBase Rhapsody!
Words & Images by: Sarah Moore
Garaj Mahal :: 03.28.06 :: Starr Hill Music Hall :: Charlottesville, VA
There are a number of elements that set Garaj Mahal apart from the myriad of funk-jam bands on the touring circuit. Most obvious is the virtuosic talent of the band's guitarist and bass player. Kai Eckhardt (bass) has worked with Stanley Clarke, John McLaughlin, and Larry Coryell, to name a few. Fareed Haque (guitars) has lent his talents to Sting, Joe Zawinul, Tony Williams and is a tenured professor at Northern Illinois University where he teaches a variety of music classes. Rounding out the band are the very talented Alan Hertz (drums), best known as the "H" in KVHW and Eric Levy (keys).
Kai Eckhardt :: 03.28
I arrived during their first song, "Never Give Up," while they created a multi-layered rock groove. Haque's guitar brought an Eastern presence to the Western rhythm foundation. They began almost as if warming up, feeling out the edges of the room and centering themselves after a long day on the road. Soon enough, the funk was trotting along with high-pitched guitar notes maneuvering in-and-out of the pulsing rhythm. At this point Garaj Mahal threw on the brakes creating a "pseudo-stop" where the lead dropped out but the funk kept flowing. Something about expecting the end of a song and hearing them jump back in full-throttle excited me. Eckhardt took a few steps foreword and began an intricate high-end solo. After his brief moment, the group faded into an almost-smooth jazz composite, with Hertz striking the rim of his drums. Their tendency to change moods, time signatures, and feels within jams truly elevate them in comparison to their contemporaries. They melded back into an upbeat, straightforward, and fuller groove, and Levy added some intergalactic sounds on the keys. These outer space musings quickly transformed into a gritty wah-wah progression. Yet again, they segued back into the original groove, with Haque lacing things together with a sitar-effect. His special 1962 Gibson lent itself to a variety of different sounds, exhibiting its versatility many times during the show.
Next, they went into their second selection, "Frankie Ford." Hertz caused a rumbling that transitioned into another funky number. Eckhardt plucked his Fender, creating a mouth harp tone with a heavy dance vibe. The tight, quick groove involved some duet scat singing between Eckhardt and Haque. Seemingly in a chaotic state, the band churned out a hodgepodge of disorder, although the sound had clear direction. Haque switched his tone, giving the impression that the sound was traveling through a wooden tube. Fast Latin beats mixed with the avant melody. Then, they concocted a radio-tuning sound before heading back into their head groove. Before ending the song, Hertz played an energetic solo, whetting the audience's appetites for the furious drumming that loomed ahead. The band incorporated P-Funk's "We Want the Funk" into their set closer, "Poodle Factory," from their Mondo Garaj release. Haque applied a nasty slide, and the crowd could not contain themselves.
Haque & Eckhardt :: 03.28
Opening their second set, Hertz applied a precise, heavy drum outline while Levy manned the Fender Rhodes on "Be Dope" (another song from Mondo). Soon the four were all collectively improvising, with Haque's Freddie Green-esque chunky guitar blazing the path. Before long, he was shredding the instrument, throwing his whole body into it. The highlight of the evening was their re-vamped version of "We Are the Survivors," a tune recorded in New Orleans. They reworked the song after seeing the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. Beginning with a sound reminiscent of "Cross-Eyed and Painless," the tune quickly unfolded into a unique strain of funk. Eckhardt began by barely touching his bass and then progressively became louder and more adamant. The complex rhythm altered the natural dance rhythm, and soon I felt the flow. Hertz placed a tambourine on his drums for a fuller sound, and soon dove into a supreme solo. A neighborhood bucket jam came to mind, but he was just one person. Levy inserted a violin sound, and then he used an electric mouthpiece to breathe an extra layer into the jam. The device reminded me of a melodica, but instead of a tube, there was a wire.
Hertz & Levy :: 03.28
The band mentioned Freddie Wah-Wah Watson before heading into their set closer, "Poujab." Layered funk permeated the room, involving a fluttering of the keyboards and more "pseudo-stops." Before ending, they went into a multitude of staccatissimo lines. That is, they hit their instrument very quickly and made a lengthy pause between notes. They closed by manhandling their respective instruments, and the crowd cheered them back for one more song. "Blueberry Cave," the title track from their latest album, was the selection of choice. Haque employed his guistar (guitar and sitar combined, somehow) and Eckhardt changed to his fretless Coura. Haque showed off at first by performing a Bach cello suite before delving into sheets of chords. A complex fingering frenzy separated this tune from the rest of the night. Eckhardt stood up for a last solo, employing low, rich tones. Suddenly, they ended abruptly after a fast burst, fortissimo. Before walking off stage, Eckhardt recited a short poem for all the hippies in the audience, bringing down the house.
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