[3 March 2014]
It’s common knowledge that the world is becoming an ever smaller place. The “global village”, sped along by technology and the media, is more of a reality all the time. This international interconnectedness affects all of art of course, but perhaps none more interestingly than the field of music.
Guitarist Fareed Haque, an American of Chilean and Pakistani descent, is a master chef of this world gumbo, cooking up a feast of exotic tastes and textures on his latest album Trance Hypothesis. In the space of 11 songs, he and his band touch on jazz (smooth, fusion and straight-ahead), funk, blues, electronica, Persian, Indian classical, Western classical, Bollywood, and African styles. Yup, there’s a lot going on here. Haque’s all about blending, from the feel-good Chicago blues by way of India “Chitlins ‘N’ Chutney” to the African kalimba-and-vocals meets sitar of “Saba”.
In less experienced hands, this kind of album could be a mess. Yet, Haque, who’s also a music professor at Northern Illinois University, has been performing and composing in various configurations for a long time. He’s gone the solo route, as well as collaborated with Sting, Paquito D’Rivera, Joe Zawinul, and too many other musicians to list here. He’s also led three bands: the jam-based Garaj Mahal, the more electronica-centric MathGames!, and The Flat Earth Ensemble. The similarity between them is that they all revel in melding seemingly disparate musical styles.
This is Haque’s second outing with the Flat Earth Ensemble, a multi-national band including players on tabla, sitar, keyboards, bass, drums, and vocals. Besides the obvious focus on Haque’s guitar, what stands out most on Trance Hypothesis is just how important the tablas are. They serve as the backbone for each track, providing a unity and continuity of flavor, no matter what style is being explored.
And exploration is the key here. For such an ambitious undertaking as Trance Hypothesis, it’s noteworthy that Haque starts things off with a relaxed appetizer called “Mellow Mood”, easing us in to the various dishes served up throughout the rest of the album. The cool, late-nite jazz electronica of the track features tasteful Wes Montgomery licks filtered through a soft-psych prism, plus organ and subtle sitar.
“In the Bollywood” is another track with overt electronica influences. It also includes some electric guitar scatting and works well as a later-album companion piece to “Mellow Mood”. Though one other track, “Hymn to the Ancients”, shares that mellow mood, with its dreamy incense haze and celestial atmospherics, the bulk of the collection is high energy. The title song is a breezy coastline cruise, propelled by a kinetic beat. Things get downright funky on “Cowboys and Indians” and “Down to the Root” with fast guitar runs on the former and heavy slabs of organ on the later.
On Trance Hypothesis, the mystical and the manic intertwine for one of the most rewarding global fusion releases in recent memory. Haque is a restless world citizen of music, not afraid to look beyond his front door for inspiration.