Garaj Mahal: Semos
w00t (Owl 00125)
Eric Levy (keyboards),
Wendy Levy (vocals), Kai Eckhardt (bass), Fareed Haque (guitar), Alan Hertz (drums).
Composed by Kai Eckhardt.
Recorded: California, Indiana and North Carolina, May 2007-April 2008
Rating: 91/100 (learn more)
Some music scholars believe that jazz died commercially when folks could no longer dance to its increasingly changing time signatures and lengthy investigative solos. The argument goes that as soon as you lost women, who were half of most dance partnerships and loved to dance, you lost half the potential jazz market. It is easy to extrapolate from there. Taking a date to a jazz club became a rarer event, so lots of guys were lost from the jazz market too.
Enter the jam band. The best jam bands are comprised of really good jazz musicians who appreciate rock, funk, jazz, fusion and world music and know how to combine all those genres into a groove so dense it has its own gravitational pull. This force can be so great that it will sometimes make seated audience members pedal imaginary bikes or get up, with or without a partner, and dance.
Despite the relative commercial success of jam-band music, the genre is not quite yet in the position to save jazz. That is because there are only about five really good jam bands. (I'd love to hear more.) One of those is Martin Medeski & Wood. Another is Garaj Mahal. Both groups are effective purveyors of jazz-fusion. Though MMW remains the best known and most popular jam band, musically Garaj Mahal takes no second fiddle. GM has been around since 2000, and has developed a very loyal following. Guitarist Fareed Haque, bassist Kai Eckhardt, drummer Alan Hertz and keyboard player Eric Levy keep the spirit of fusion alive with hypnotically rhythmic forays that include plenty of frenzied guitar licks, synthesizer runs, heavy bass and backbeats.
"Semos" is a Kai Eckhardt composition. The tune's groove foundation is augmented by keyboardist Levy's jazz-tinged chords. Haque offers a straight-ahead solo played over the jazz changes. The tune's progressive nature continues with an electric piano solo. A more direct fusion element is introduced as Levy plays call & response with himself matching electric piano with synthesizer every step of the way. Have I neglected to mention that Eckhardt and Hertz are laying down a 6-lane rhythm highway for these guys to follow? In jam band music it is all about the groove. It's not easy to add explorative elements outside that framework. But Garaj Mahal manages to add textures and colors that lesser bands would never even contemplate. You can do that when great musicians share a pulse. Garaj Mahal can play music that stimulates you intellectually and moves you to shake yo' thang. (Think I am not telling the truth about people dancing to fusion? Check out this YouTube video of Garaj Mahal for as long as it remains available.)
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky