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Garaj Mahal: Blueberry Cave

The San Francisco band Garaj Mahal will never be accused of stylistic timidity. Indeed, they try so many things on Blueberry Cave that sometimes they get too ambitious. Kai Eckhardt is a fantastic bassist, one of fusion’s finest groove players, but he’s not a good scat singer and should avoid putting any more of those vocals on record. The unnecessary “‘Spect Rap” includes questionable hip-hop references with blaring sitar, and the excessive guitar-keyboard duel between Fareed Haque and Eric Levy nearly ruins the otherwise excellent title track.

But fortunately these flaws don’t overshadow the rest of the session. There’s a far more creative and enticing mix of rap and jazz on the short piece “Bicycling in Bombay,” and the rhythmically bright “Celtic Indian” contains outstanding drumming by Alan Hertz. Haque’s best solo and tremendous ensemble interaction make “Paladin” a noteworthy cut, and the group brilliantly delves into ’70s funk on “Cosmic Elevator.” Garaj Mahal smartly incorporates nimble blues work from Haque and nice funk and jazz elements from Eckhardt, Levy and Hertz on “Alvin.” The good songs are performed so capably only some stylistic overreaching drops Blueberry Cave down from great to very good.

Originally Published