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Garaj Mahal: Mondo Garaj

Garaj Mahal is a fusion jazz band made up of four highly talented musicians. Mondo Garaj is the second CD from this Jam-Session Band. This is tight, intricate, fusion jazz played with a swagger. The only vocals occur on the weakest track of the CD; "Poodle Factory". The undisputed leader of Garaj Mahal is Fareed Haque. Haque is an amazingly accomplished classical and jazz guitarist. His resume is too extreme to list, but it is safe to say that no musical style has passed him by. His playing is fresh and inventive and works great as the "voice" of most of these pieces. Eric Levy plays keyboards like a guitarist. His handling of the instrument makes the 12 songs on this CD remain unique and always challenging.

The real stars of this CD, and in most Fusion CDs that I enjoy, is the rhythm section. Alan Hertz is an amazing drummer that doesn't overwhelm the music but yet keeps everything flowing. Kai Eckhardt (on bass) contributes the songwriting for the CDs title track. His playing is as close to perfect as I have heard on a CD. Every note has a purpose and no pattern ever gets boring. If you play or enjoy bass, try listening to "Madagascar" without your jaw dropping.

With most Jam-Session bands you run the risk of the music simply being an opportunity to showcase musician's talents. But there is no wanking on this CD. Yes, there is plenty of soloing and plenty of lengthy jams, but the music always is the star, not the performers.

If you like your fusion to have a lot of funk and a large dose of creativity, than Mondo Garaj should be right up your alley. Garaj Mahal is recommended for almost anybody who needs to jazz their life up a little.

Track Listing
1) Mondo Garaj (5:33)
2) Hindi Gumbo (5:31)
3) Be Dope (6:11)
4) Junckt (6:22)
5) Poodle Factory (3:51)
6) The Big Smack Down (0:35)
7) New Meeting (8:04)
8) Beware My Ethnic Heart (9:11)
9) Madagascar (5:21)
10) Gulam Sabri (7:47)
11) Bajo (7:07)
12) Milk Carton Blues (3:06)

Added: February 11th 2005
Reviewer: Steve Ambrosius
Related Link: Garaj Mahal Web Site
Hits: 3154
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Garaj Mahal: Mondo Garaj
Posted by Elias Granillo, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-02-11 00:29:02
My Score:

Allow me to deviate from my usual—ha!—plan of attack to point something out. Yes, I could confirm what a sick guitarist Garaj Mahal has in Fareed Haque, and do the same for that powerhouse of a drummer Al Hertz. I could blather on about how cool it is that keyboardist Eric Levy programs each one of his synth sounds, which carries over from his father being a synth programmer in the 1970's. Cooler yet, Levy plays a real Hohner Clavinet D6. There's nothing like the real thing, baby.

Instead, let me take a moment to focus on Kai Eckhardt, Garaj Mahal's bass player. A German expatriate and Berklee alumnus, Kai Eckhardt joined John McLaughlin's trio not long after he graduated in 1987. Kai became a U.S. resident in '94, as stated on the band's web site, and he's played with Billy Cobham, Patrice Rushen, Steve Smith, and Al Di Meola, among others. "The Big Smack Down," Kai's solo bass fragment on Mondo Garaj, is thirty-five seconds of fluid fret navigating—I thought it was actually the intro to "New Meeting." But it's not just due to Kai's prowess that I enjoy listening to it; I've heard many bass instrumentals (many that are much longer). It's also how great the instrument sounds. What's so special about it? Is it multi-tracked? Chorused? Does a certain level of gain give Kai the same stunning tone as John Wetton's on Red? Nope. None of the above. Listen to "Smack Down"—on headphones, preferably, with eyes closed. It sounds like he's playing right in front of you. That E string is vibratin' mere feet from your face. So clear, so resonant. It's how all bass guitars should be recorded. So heads up, Sirs Lee, Squire, Hasegawa, Sheehan, Saegusa, etcetera, etcetera: you've all been recorded well and then some, but why not step back from those extra pedals, tell the engineer to hit the Record button and just sit back, and let those roundwounds resonate nude!

Indeed, the entire album sounds fantastic, musically and sonically, all sixty-nine minutes of it—and "Poodle Factory" simply must be heard to be appreciated. My favorite cut may actually be "Milk Carton Blues," which finds the Garaj pared down to a trio of Hertz, Eckhardt, and Levy, who sticks to his Rhodes and leaves the Mini-Moog and Clavinet out of the picture.

Garaj Mahal: Mondo Garaj
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-01-07 10:17:43
My Score:

Mondo Garaj is an entertaining modern fusion release from Garaj Mahal, a CD that mixes stunning jazz chops with funk grooves and rock firepower. While the band has seemed to get lumped in with the whole "jam band" scene, you'll be hard pressed to find much of that style here. Guitarist Fareed Haque is a monster player, as his fiery playing helps propel his bandmates into territories previously roamed by such bands as Larry Coryell's Eleventh House, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, and Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention.

If you listen closely to tracks like "Hindi Gumbo" or even the hilarious "Poodle Factory", there is a strong Zappa feel to the music, as the band combines dexterity in the song arrangements with a sense of humor and wild reckless abandonment that Frank and his band were well known for. In fact, I'd also say anyone into Mike Keneally's music would feel right at home here.

The entire band is composed of hot players-Eric Levy can really burn on the organ and synths, while the rhythm tandem of Kai Eckhardt on bass and drummer Alan Hertz simply groove and burn the entire CD.

One great thing about Garaj Mahal is that they come across as a band that doesn't take themselves too seriously. Not that their music is not of the highest quality or anything, but there is a certain air about their music that just reeks of "fun" and "good times." Perhaps that is why they have gotten lumped into the jam category.

In summary, this is one highly enjoyable release of swinging, virtuoso funk-rock-fusion, that will have you tapping your feet as well as shaking your head at the complexity of it all.

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