Garaj Mahal 


Younger readers may find this hard to believe, but early on jazz's subgenre fusion was almost as controversial as punk was to the mainstream rock sphere. Old-guard purists reviled it, disdaining it as "trash" and "sellout" even as some rock and funk fans rallied to it. Epochal recordings from the late 1960s and early '70s — by Miles Davis, Gary Burton, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, among others — defined fusion with their audacious and inspired blending of rock dynamics and jazz improvisation. After awhile — as with punk — it got diluted and fell victim to excess.

Bringing us, dear reader, to Garaj Mahal, a contemporary outfit attempting to restore fusion's prestige. Despite their good intentions — the foursome's musicianship is impeccable — Woot finds them falling into pitfalls of their forebears. Keyboardist Eric Levy favors a fluttering, twittering approach that'd be right at home on the soundtrack to that '80s show Miami Vice. (Alas, that show's music was by Jan Hammer, formerly of the once-edgy Mahavishnu.) Some tunes are so easygoing and innocuous as to be suitable background for Wal-Mart shopping.

There are noteworthy exceptions — the sparse "Corner Peace" features sublimely pensive solos from Fareed Haque's flamenco-tinged acoustic guitar and Levy's lyrical acoustic piano. The loping "Uptown Tippitina's" smolders with N'awlins funk ambience and a biting, slow-burning, blues-charged electric solo from Haque. On balance, Woot is pleasant enough, but next time, guys, get nasty or moody. (Owl Studios)


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