Something new from Garaj 

Hip-hop-based acid-jazz rockers at the Boot

Who: Garaj Mahal

Where: Boot Pub

When: Dec. 30-31

Tickets: $20/$60

Sure Garaj Mahal can spontaneously groove into free-flowing jams, but would band members classify the hip-hop-based acid-jazz rockers as a jam band?

Garaj Mahal have released their first full-length studio album in the five years since the band’s inception. Three live albums filled in the gaps, typical of the jam band profile. While the community-building musicians are founded on high-octane shows full of surprises, and the refusal to step on stage with a set music list, guitar virtuoso Fareed Haque upholds that the band is anything but hack jammers muddling through murky improvised noise.

"We are not jam band musicians," he said from his Chicago home. "For us, it has always been an even split between live and recorded experiences. Most jam bands are pretty exclusive about live performances, and in the studio most are even less production oriented. We are jazzier, even though we are a jam band. I don’t separate the two."

Garaj Mahal is a band full of frontmen, all well connected in formal training and the who’s who of the jazz and contemporary music scene. The four-strong crew is made up of Kai Eckhardt, whose Indian-fused jazz has graced the sounds of John Mclaughlin; Haque, a jazz professor who worked alongside Sting; Alan Hertz, a fierce jazz and world beat drummer; and Eric Levy, whose keyboard harkens back to the days of Jan Hammer.

"There are definitely challenges associated with it," Haque said of working among such strong talent. "They are healthy challenges. Part of the issue of working together in the arts is that you can find a way to balance all valid views to produce something larger than the sum of the parts. Everyone has strongly felt opinions in the group. There is just a lot of passion and conviction behind it."

Amongst the "No, I want that guitar solo" or "You can’t take that out: that’s my favourite part" discussions the "family" members were able to come to an overarching consensus as a group. And Garaj Mahal’s new album, Blueberry Cave, promises Garaj fans two shows stacked with new songs Friday, Dec. 30 and New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31 at the Boot Pub.

"We have a lot of new music; a lot of new creative energy," he said. "The band is constantly evolving. These shows are going to be different from other shows we’ve done with the new music."

Funky jazz with world-music flare will entice dancers onto the floor for two shows. Indian, funky, fusionary or just plain rocked out, the multi-dimensional shut-up-and-listen band carries a hybrid sound unique unto themselves. Composition and improvisation embraces – rather than alienating – listeners, always building on the people who made them.

"All great music came from a social context," Haque said. "People don’t go into a lab to concoct great music. People go out and have a party and play music and music evolves out of that social context. When you take music out of a social context or put it in a concert hall, you kill it on a certain level."

Bach was inspired to write a zillion cantatas; as Haque says, he had to. He needed one for every Sunday mass.

"They weren’t done because he was brilliant," Haque said. "There was a social context for him to write. People would go to church saying, ‘I wonder what Bach wrote us today. Is it going to be great or suck?’"

From Bach to Duke Ellington, all greats grew from social settings and Garaj Mahal is no different and therefore looks forward to bringing the album live to the people who inspired it.

Tickets for the Dec. 30 show are $20 and New Year’s Eve tickets are $60 and include champagne at midnight. Call the Shoestring Lodge at 604-932-3338 for tickets.

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