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Garaj Mahal: Blueberry Cave

Chris M. Slawecki By

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The fifth studio release from this San Francisco quartet embodies the modern instrumental jam band movement and preserves the freewheeling legacy of 1970s progressive rock along the way.

Alan Hertz (drums), Eric Levy (keyboards), Kai Eckhardt (bass), and Fareed Haque (guitar) came into Garaj Mahal from varied backgrounds: Eckhardt played in John McLaughlin's trio, for example, while Haque served as an occasional musical sparring partner for the late drummer Tony Williams and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. But one thing is certain: they share a unified playing spirit. This Blueberry jam damn sure shows off their chops.

The title cut beckons from a pool of electronic keyboard ripples that swim against each other in counterpoint, water-drop echoes of Genesis' "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway that plunge into a floating middle passage centered on a bass solo that suggests Pat Metheny trying on the instrument for size. From out of nowhere, a drum explosion detonates the concluding jam among guitar, keyboard, and bass—pure instrumental dynamite. "Bicycling in Bombay more deeply thumps its bass and drum, an evocative belly dance between Haque's guitar and turntable scratches from DJ Fly.

"The Shadow navigates a complex melody full of twists and stops, chopping out pseudo-funk guitar and organ. Its sleek glide slides into an instrumental free-for-all, with Eckhardt chewing up then belching out the bottom; this fast and focused leadoff track echoes the Frank Zappa band that featured keyboardist George Duke, one of FZ's more jazz-tinged rock ensembles. Eckhardt's flails his turns in "Paladin, a showcase for Levy, and the sitar-centered "Massive at a hummingbird's pace, with no harmonic or rhythmic missteps.

The "Cave closes with an eleven-minute ride through "Celtic Indian, a blazing group excursion and onstage concert favorite. Individually and collectively, the members of the band play like their hair is on fire. Eckhardt spirals so far into and out of the groove that he completely bridges the internal space between the rhythm section in the background and the keyboards and guitar in the foreground. The ensemble blitzkriegs the melody to smoke and ash, like bombardiers, to close.

Within this Blueberry Cave, an impressive display of ensemble interplay lurks under the cover of modern jam band rock.

Track Listing: The Shadow; Alvin; Blueberry Cave;

Personnel: Kai Eckhardt: bass, vocals; Fareed Haque: guitars; Eric Levy: keyboards; Alan Hertz: drums; DJ Fly Agaric: turntables; Tasha Levine: vocals; Shanan Edelheit: vocals.

Title: Blueberry Cave | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Harmonized Records

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