Garaj Mahal - Blueberry Cave CD

Driving on my way to work this afternoon, the sun is finally shining, and my ride is going to be accompanied by the funky jazz-rock influenced grooves of Garaj Mahal. The first track, "The Shadow," would alone be worth the price of this album, for it takes you on an over 9-minute journey.
Fareed Haque welcomes you in with his signature clean-but-gritty guitar tone as he chops away at a James Brown-like rhythm. Once the rest of the band kicks in, it's just funky, simply put. Besides providing the solid low end on bass, Kai Eckhardt's "Hit me" jabs and unique polyrhythmic vocal "chants" (for lack of a better word) can be heard, which take the Brown-style of hype to another, more sophisticated, level. This track soon strays away from the straight-up funk to more progressive territory where syncopated unison lines and denser keyboard harmonies of Eric Levy inhabit. One great reason why this track is first is because you'll hear each member blow, with the climax being Alan Hertz's "did they do that live?" drum solo close to the end of the tune. My guess is probably "yes."

If that first trip didn't take you anywhere, then you're out of luck, but if you're thirsting for more there are nine more tunes just waiting for you. "Alvin" is more laid-back and has an appearance by DJ Fly Agaric on the turntables. The title track begins as a more introspective composition making use of the dreamy Rhodes piano sound and harp-like guitar runs. There is a very melodic bass solo and then...wait; we're awakened by what seems like an inappropriate synth swell and suddenly the calmness is overtaken by a brief drum solo that kicks into a filthy jam. It seems like Garaj Mahal has transformed themselves into The Mahavishnu Orchestra and it's 1973 all over again (check out Birds of Fire) as the distorted guitar and keys trade lines back and forth. After three minutes of all-out jamming, the original mood is reintroduced and closes out the piece.

There are many textures that are created throughout Blueberry Cave. "'Spect Rap" and "NO 'Spect" are basically one song where you hear Haque playing a sitar guitar intro and Eckhardt rapping, with the help of Tasha Levine singing. "Massive" is a marriage of the traditional sounds of Indian music with a more modern dance beat. Sometimes the listener must reserve some patience with the beginnings of some songs, as with "Cosmic Elevator." As with the title track, the more danceable stuff isn't just thrown in your ears like candy. You have to respect the musicality that Garaj Mahal possesses and earn your way into a song to soak up the funky goodness. There is a lot there, just not always in the first 30 seconds.

- by John Cardoni