Garaj Mahal – Live Review
(Live concert review from April 22, 2009 at Johnny D’s in Somerville, MA)
I had hoped to get to the Garaj Mahal gig early so I could hook-up with the band’s bassist Kai Eckhardt before the show. But bad weather, worse traffic and the lack of a parking space, and my embarrassing inability to parallel park once I found one, caused me to almost lose my reserved table. Still, with the help of a Johnny D’s employee and the unexpected appearance of a warm-up act, I had time to go and meet Kai and guitarist Fareed Haque in the venue’s basement dressing room before the band’s set. I learned from Kai that after 8 years together the band has just been able to come up with a workable touring schedule that provides enough income to get the bills paid. This is no small feat for any jazz or jazz jam band in this tough economy. Eight years of persistence has paid off in other ways too. Garaj Mahal has hit a groove from which there is no escape. Eckhardt and bandmates guitarist Fareed Haque, keyboardist Eric Levy and new drummer Sean Rickman made this abundantly clear during a virtuosic and invigorating set full of low-register guitar and bass unison runs carried out at breakneck speed, Levy’s whirling dervish keyboard work and Rickman’s insistent timekeeping and well-placed flourishes.
In Haque, Garaj Mahal has one of the finest fusion guitarists playing today. He stands, and sometimes sits, in a rather unpretentious manner giving little indication that his guitar may explode at any moment. When not rifling off jam band grooves and jazz-rock solos, Haque is quite at home offering up tasty jazz licks in between. The bottom end of Eckhardt’s bass is often the foundation of the performance. Because of this at times the band sounds like a jazzed-up version of Robin Trower, or even Black Sabbath! Eckhardt’s smiling is every bit as much of the act as his superlative playing. Levy is an astounding keyboard player. When not involved in highly energetic trading, he offered jazz inflected accompaniment and worthwhile solos. Rickman proved to have the metal for fusion and the voice to carry off a crowd-pleasing Police cover of When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around.
Outstanding versions of the band’s “Semos,” and “Chester the Pester” were presented. But the highlight of the evening was an extended jam on “Tachyonics.” The band was joined on this tune by guest star guitarist David ‘Fuze’ Fiuczynski who had opened the show with his trio. The new quintet, with two killer guitarists now in tow, carried on a fevered musical conversation to the utter delight of a crowd already high on a groove.