Individually and in combinations, the members of Garaj Mahal - Eric Levy (keyboards), Alan Hertz (drums), Kai Eckhardt (bass) and Fareed Haque (guitar) - have accompanied Dizzy Gillespie, Stanley Clarke, Al DiMeola, Steve Smith's Vital Information, and the John McLaughlin Trio. These three simultaneous (individually packaged) live sets fish with hip young bait in the hopes of making a big splash in the same free-flowing, neo-hippie college radio jam band waters in which such bands as Phish and Widespread Panic spawned. Consisting almost entirely of fusion-y instrumental jams, these live sets will appeal to fans of Brand X and Return to Forever, too.
The first four tracks on Volume 1 feature tabla legend Zakir Hussain, collaborator in the Dig a Rhythm Band, Planet Drum, and Shakti, in whose company Haque's 12-string fretless guitar dances like a jubilant sitar. "Semos" more fully spotlights Hussain, while "Gulam Sabri" showcases Levy, who explodes through a Chick Corea-style electric fusion workout as if shot from a cannon, followed in kind by Haque on electric guitar. Hertz's "Celtic Indian," where the sitar and tabla tones twine a jig, delivers a nice pan-global fusion touch.
Volume 2 lets its Frank Zappa freak flag fly with mercurial, constantly shifting song structures and naughty if not wicked content: Sexual innuendos ("Ride the shaft," for example, in "Cosmic Elevator"), odes to dog meat ("Poodle Vamp"), and a
scrambled cover of Pee Wee Ellis' "The Chicken," all crowned by a contemplative solo guitar rendition of the US "National Anthem."
Newly victorious 2002 -03 US National Hammered Dulcimer Champion Jamie Janover guests on 'Stoked on Razaki' on Volume 3, which also prances through Levy's Prince-like "Thursday," the jazz-rocking "Never Give Up," and closes with an eighteen-minute instrumental spacewalk through "Material Girl." Yes, THAT "Material Girl"!
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