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Garaj Mahal

More Mr. Nice Guy

(Owl Studios; US: 9 Mar 2010; UK: 9 Mar 2010)

cover art

Garaj Mahal

Discovery: Garaj Mahal and Fareed Haque Present the Moog Guitar

(Moog Music; UK: 29 Jan 2010)

Bob Moog (rhymes with Vogue) (May 23, 1934 – August 21, 2005) was best known as the creator of the Moog synthesizer and the theremin, so his legacy in electronic music firmly established. Though he left Moog Music in 1977, the company that bears his name still produces high quality electronic instruments and in 2008, introduced the Moog guitar. Some of the world’s finest guitarists, including Lou Reed, Vernon Reid, and Joe Satriani immediately fell in love with the new instrument that adds multiple filters and controls and sustains notes in extended tremolos.


Renowned jazz guitarist Fareed Haque was drawn in as well and began to incorporate the instrument into his music with Garaj Mahal on the band’s 2008 recording, Woot. Given ample time to have mastered the instrument, the band has recently released a recording based predominately on its eccentricities.


On Discovery: Garaj Mahal and Fareed Haque Present the Moog Guitar, Haque and the band offer ten originals, one classical composition, and one jazz standard, all centered on the guitar and the synthesizer. Opener “DC Swing” and “Atorius” are both trance-like electronica that will keep the ravers and all night festival kids happy. On the other hand, “Never Give Up” begins as a blistering rocker, only to transition into a bouncing keyboard bridge before coming back around. At 9:41, “Make a Hippy Happy” is a hybrid of jazz and grove that will do just what it suggests. A live staple for several years, the psychedelic wah wah effects and oh-so-funky keys are far more pronounced in this recorded version. The most melodic song on this disc is “Of a Simple Mind”, where Haque creates shimmering acoustic tones on the Moog guitar, backed by mellifluous piano swells laid down by synth wiz Eric Levy.


Discovery serves mainly as an exploration of the Moog guitar and synthesizer and their limitless possibilities in modern recording, while showcasing the sonic talent of Haque and Levy.


More Mr. Nice Guy, on the other hand, is a proper Garaj Mahal recording that features the whole band and Haque playing Moog guitar on several songs. This release brings together the band’s amalgamation of jazz-fusion and funky improvisation, Middle Eastern modalities and American rock and is more representative of its sound.


Fans of the band’s live performances will recognize several songs from its live repertoire, including opener “Witch Doctor”, laced with Middle Eastern guitar melodies and undulating bass funk. The tribal vocal chants add sincerity and a haunting indo-funk element. Levy’s “Tachyonics” is a sassy lounge tune, awash in warm Fender Rhodes organ and an elegant piano bridge and then a bass solo. At 10:51, “The Long Form” is true to its title; it’s a fusion of blues-drenched guitar rock and heavy funk held together by Kai Eckhardt’s fluid, dynamic bass.


“Frankly Frankie Ford” begins as a more nuanced jazz standard interwoven with banjo strains, then veers into an ambient electronic funk excursion led by Levy’s Clavinet, followed by a mellifluous electric guitar dabbling from Haque, then returns to the lead verse with banjo and piano. It’s a real toe tapper that will certainly get audiences on their feet. Haque plays the Moog guitar in muted filter on “Chester the Pester”, the plucked notes creating a sound similar to a sitar. “Allison’s Pony” is a gorgeous jazz ballad with Levy’s piano taking the lead while Eckhardt’s fluid bass and Haque’s graceful electric guitar add lovely harmony.


First and foremost, Garaj Mahal is a live, instrumental quartet and both recordings offer several songs that will add to its live repertoire. For anyone interested in just how far the electronic textures of an instrument can be taken, Discovery… demonstrates the virtuosity amongst the quartet and excursions into electronic music, while More Mr. Nice Guy will ring true to fans of the band’s previous recordings.

Rating:

Bill is a New England based freelance critic whose writing has been published in Paste Magazine, Relix Magazine, Performing Songwriter Magazine, The Hartford Advocate and Hartford Courant, Jambase.com, Yahoo Music, among others.


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