When guitarist Fareed Haque first came onto the scene in the late '80s, he revealed his impressive technique and placed diverse musical interests, including classical and Indian music, within a more improvisational jazz context. It seemed as though he'd be the next big thing. With a melodic sensibility that brought to mind certain elements of Pat Metheny, along with the blinding technique of an Al Di Meola (albeit more restrained and, consequently, less bombastic), it just seemed like a sure thing. Sadly, following three efforts for Blue Note that included an imaginative reinvention of Crosby, Stills Nash & Young's Déjà Vu, Haque seemed to disappear off the radar.
Of course, that doesn't mean that Haque hasn't been busy. His distinctive approach, especially to classical guitar, has found him as a guest on recordings by artists including Karl Denson, David Sanborn, and Paquito D'Rivera. And while it's been some time since he's released an album under his own name, he's been an integral part of the fusion group Garaj Mahal, which also features bassist Kai Eckhardt.
Gradually, Haque has become better known on the jam band scene, and so it's no surprise that his latest effort, Cosmic Hughis first in eight years and the debut of his new Fareed Haque Groupfits comfortable within that aesthetic. Sceptics who might imagine that this means endlessly meandering solos couldn't be farther from the truth. Cosmic Hug certainly revolves around the admirable talents of all involvedkeyboard players Dan Nimmer and J Cappo, bassist Jon Paul, drummer Don Leoli, and percussionist Kalyan Pathakbut everyone demonstrates a remarkable amount of self-control, making every solo meaningful and to the point.
While New York guitarist Rez Abassi's Snake Charmer fused Indo-centric sensibilities with a more openly harmonic jazz approach, Haque blends a similar sensibility with approachable and compelling grooves. Given that Indian music is more centred on rhythm and linear melody, this is a powerful mix. Cosmic Hug has the kind of imaginative soloing that one would expect from Haque and anyone he would associate with, but it's also infectiously danceable. Live, this group must surely smoke.
That's not to say that all tracks are based on Indian concepts. "Brd is a powerful piece of fusion with a convoluted unison theme and frenzied feel that harkens back to Return to Forever. "Sassi Lassi likewise sports a funkier fusion front, with a lighter façade. Still, the riff-based "Gulab Jammin, "FH/SK, and "Lahara, all featuring Pathak's tablas and vocals, clearly weigh in with a strong eye eastwards.
Throughout, Haqueon assorted electric and acoustic guitars, as well as a sitar guitardemonstrates a remarkable ability to blend a variety of influences. At the end of the day, Cosmic Hug is a jam band/fusion record, but it doesn't rely on longwinded excess. Loose in approach yet never overstaying its welcome, the Fareed Haque Group is certainly one of the more interesting and distinctive units to hit the jam band scene.
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