As its band name suggests, Garaj Mahal is a half-serious band, with a healthy portion of its focus on the party aesthetic that has rendered it something of a self-made sensation in the network-machined world of jam bands. But the group is one of the rare jazz-geared entries in the jam-band cosmos—John Scofield’s überjam band is another prime example—in which musicality and impressive instrumental chops appear alongside the fun-loving ferocity of grooves. The players here—guitarist Fareed Haque, keyboardist Eric Levy, drummer Alan Hertz and bassist Kai Eckhardt (who played with John McLaughlin once upon a time)—really can play.
That collective and individual facility alone is a huge part of the charm of catching them live, entertaining swaying and flailing jam-band fans—who may or may not notice the winking musical intricacies in the song structures or the knotty solos, and in a venue where idle jammy noodling may have gone down the night before. On record, the charm isn’t so in-your-face, but Woot has sure allure, on many levels. This is a band plugged into the live experience, and the imperative of speaking to the feet of dancers. That’s not to say that the band keeps the dance floor dynamics foremost in its music at all times. Dancers would be challenged finding their way into the fragmented groove pockets in Eckhardt’s exercise in odd meter, “7 Cows Jumping Over the Moon.”
Garaj Mahal’s music, as neatly represented on this latest album, can sometimes be goofy (“Ishmael and Isaac”), and is often proud of showing off its ’70s roots, as in the Headhunters-ish “Hotel” and the return-to-Return to Forever-ish unison-line gabfest of “Pundit-Ji.” They get shuffly/rootsy with “Uptown Tippitinas” before ending on a Next Generation Fusion Band note, with Haque’s “Jamie’s Jam,” alternately spacey and fuzoid, with rapid lines that won’t quit. The song exists in some weird transition zone between the American garage and Mahavishnu-fied Indian yearnings. And why not? Between-zones are this band’s favored cultural spaces.