Garaj Mahal – Blueberry Cave
Kai Eckhardt – Bass, vocals
Fareed Haque – Guitars, sitar guitar
Alan Hertz – Drums
Eric Levy – KeyboardsWith guests: DJ Fly Agaric; Tasha Levine; Shanan EdelheitTracks:
1. The Shadow
3. Blueberry Cave
4. ’Spect Rap
5. NO ’Spect
7. Cosmic Elevator
9. Bicycling in Bombay
10. Celtic Indian
As much as we love music, there are times when our tastes and choices become habitual and we fall into ruts. One of the down sides of being in a rut is the tendency to lower our expectations regarding new music. Another is that we turn our ears off. Ironically, it is the turned off ear that hears the music that sparks our enthusiasm towards music again. And sometimes the music that opens your ears isn’t necessarily new, but merely a different take on the familiar.
I’ve heard some of the members of Garaj Mahal on their own and with other musicians. Their second studio album, “Blueberry Cave��?, is my first time hearing the band. When I played the opening track, my first reaction was “another funk group��? and my eyes started to glaze-over. But my ears perk up when they recognize Indian vocals sampled from John McLaughlin’s Shakti records. This is followed by a thumpin’ bass solo, and ends with a fusion rave-up. The slammin’ funk of the second track has a guest DJ mixing samples on the fly; and the band has my interest. Halfway through the disc, they have my complete attention.
And I’m hooked for the rest of the CD.
Mixing styles of music isn’t new. But it is how the styles are balanced together that makes or breaks the music. It was lightweight funk that watered down fusion (the “other f-word��?) in the late-70’s/early-80’s. Garaj Mahal makes things right again by taking heavy funk grooves and stretching them out with heaping doses of fusion. Not the smooth jazz/fusion-lite type: the real stuff. The strong funk and fusion foundation give the band the flexibility to incorporate other types of music on top.
Not every mix of styles works. Garaj Mahal makes the cardinal sin of taking an exceptional instrumental CD and adding vocals to it: the tracks ‘’Spect Rap’ and ‘NO ’Spect’ being the worst offenders. But this aside, the musicianship and performances are first-rate.
Some highlights on “Blueberry Cave��? are:
– ‘The Shadow’: As mentioned earlier, this track uses samples from ‘La Danse Du Bonheur’ from Shakti’s “A Handful of Beauty��?. The samples are not used merely for effect: they’re used rhythmically within the piece. This is a great piece of production. The band also mixes in different grooves for the soloists to play over, so you don’t get the usual two-chord jams. Your body moves to the beat, and your ears don’t get bored.
– ‘Blueberry Cave’: This starts off as a melodic mid-tempo ensemble piece and features an Eckhardt bass solo. After a wicked drum solo/turnaround, the piece launches into a jam that’s reminiscent of ‘Dawn’ (from the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “The Inner Mounting Flame��?). I haven’t heard Fareed Haque play in a long time. So it was odd to hear him using a nasty distorted tone. But his tasty licks come through no matter what he uses.
– ‘Massive’: The funk is given a Middle Eastern touch on this track, courtesy of Haque’s sitar-guitar. I also like the layered guitar tracks.
– ‘Celtic Indian’: This track showcases Garaj Mahal’s fusion side a bit more. And they wear their influences on their sleeves. On one break, the bass line sounds a little like Hendrix’s ‘Third Stone From The Sun’. On another break, they sound like “One Of A Kind��?-era Bill Bruford on steroids. And they ride out a coda that brings Return To Forever’s ‘Vulcan Worlds’ to mind. Sweeet!
Garaj Mahal play funk…and a helluva lot more. Get your ears out of a rut and check ’em out.