Fareed Haque Group - Cosmic Hug

Mixing cultures here but hey, it’s all in the musical family. Led Zeppelin reached a key summit with their 1975 release “Physical Graffiti.” In retrospect, this Moroccan album via the Flames of Albion overshadowed their mysterious ‘Runes’ album, which contained “Stairway” and the blues masterpiece of production and sound “When the Levee Breaks.” Graffiti featured the ethereal trance classic “Kashmir.” Lead vocalist Robert Plant, lead guitarist and chief Zep mystic Jimmy Page – rock music’s most talented studio producer - and former Page band mate, Jeff Beck, have all sited this song as the definitive Bonham-Jones-Page-Plant pearl. The rest of the album wasn’t chopped liver, either…Custard Pie, The Rover, In My Time of Dying, Trampled Underfoot, In the Light, Ten Years Gone, The Wanton Song, Sick Again - need I continue?
Occult Rock dressed in dark, velvety black but dripped in shiny platinum. In many a pre-1994 interview, Robert Plant had shown remorse that Zeppelin never extended beyond Graffiti into Eastern golden years that could have been. Page & Plant finally fulfilled that promise with the amazing transformation of their back catalog (plus a few new numbers to boot) on "No Quarter" - the live fantasia released in Fall 1994. However, there has always been the great 'What If?' in the Rock World. What if Page hadn't taken the Garcia Smack Highway and continued his explorations with Plant into the deep regions of Africa, India and Asia. What if Led Zeppelin had made it through all of their intercontinental influences in the 70s? Would we have "Cosmic Hug"? Hmmm...

"Cosmic Hug" begins innocently enough with the routine "gulab jammin." Routine in the sense that we've just taken a massive hit from a really good hookah and we're about to enter the Nag Champa-incensed nether regions. "pairs" continues the subtle mind shift into jazz-rock fusion merged with Arabian Night dream tangents. "fade into bolivion" delivers the final glimpse of our shore as we exit the Atlantic and slip onto another continent - The Grateful Dead's "Dark Star" pulled out of its gravitational space and shot towards another geographic zone, revved up to gear ten without any need for space exploration: She Be Within. Bass enters; acoustic guitar slams the band into action, followed by solid percussion and a measured solo by Fareed Haque, which morphs into a couple dozen little riff-as-compass jams. The Man can play. He should. Haque is a Professor of Guitar and Jazz at Northern Illinois University. But that's all chicken feed to lump onto the resume. Beyond the experience and knowledge, Haque is an excellent songwriter who can be very surprising in his tempo shifts, riff changes and mood choices. One moment, oblivion pursued; the next, soft, slow groove; and then, boom, Crunchtopia. He's a Master at his instrument and his band members are all the better for it - Kalyan Pathak is extremely adept on tabla, percussion and voice; Don Nimmer, a sweet revelation on Fender Rhodes and electric piano, J. Cappo on keyboards and electronics adds additional succinct color while Dan Leali fills the difficult role of maintaining the offbeat rhythms with tight precision on drums.

"fh/sk" wails softly...at first. Pathak fades in with a voice, disappears and engineers the entire perfect scene with a cool tabla linked to Haque's melodic tomfoolery. Django Reinhardt is conjured from the Other World for the second time in 2005 as Haque toys with gypsys, drones and belly dancers. Me? I'm on the psychedelic rug trippin' on Kashmir Blues. Nimmer reaches his summit on this 7:43 number as his Rhodes paints ethereal sonnets up and down the riffs that Haque manipulates from his Godin guitar. "cosmic hug", the song itself, features Haque on a sitar guitar while the band flips images in the air, rotating their shape and texture into new forms each time the verses click past. "short suite" is just plain slow-burn rage - a keyboard-dominated magic carpet ride.

The Eastern Dark Star mirage continues with the CD's masterpiece, "lahara." Drones, Rhodes, Haque! and a tabla begin the trip as the band sails through the mists of Africa, the Middle East, India and onto Asia as the listener is note-hookahed in great instrumental detail. Pathak throws in some ingenious tabla-scat vocals - dawn's prelude. Haque delivers his heaviest guitar god solo as the band maintains the vibe; suddenly, Pathak's tabla returns, the drones rise in volume and we're floating through the clouds. Haque rips into that picture with idyllic-crunching guitar. "short suite" follows that mindbender with a Ween-like odyssey by way of Steely Dan. The clever word play of "sassi lassi" gives no indication to the wallop the tune will deliver. Yet...the band sinks into the deepest groove on the trip - suddenly, we've got Prince playing on a radio in Bali while an odd alcoholic potion is sip-gulped. Dan Leali is at his best, thrashing away on his drum kit with hip abandon. The band rolls out upon a very cool jam that is both patient and dirt road funky - a great way to end a piece of artistic nirvana, a slice of East meets West Utopian Pagery. I guess some 'What If?' questions are eventually answered. May take a little time, but what's 30 years? Whoever said the road goes on forever didn't mean that you wouldn't take a little exit or two. "Cosmic Hug" is eleven fine detours.

- Randy Ray