CD Review: CCM Jazz Orchestra - In Search Of Garaj Mahal

A killer live performance of Garaj Mahal's music by the CCM Orchestra featuring Fareed Haque.
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For over a decade, Garaj Mahal made a name for themselves by playing a fusion of jazz, funk, Indian and rock music. The group played over 1,000 shows and was known for their instrumental prowess. In 2014, the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (CCM) Jazz Director, Scott Belck, approached Garaj Mahal guitarist Fareed Haque with an idea. He wanted to do orchestral arrangements of Garaj Mahal tunes with the CCM Jazz Orchestra, perform them live and record an album. While Haque was skeptical at first, he soon learned that Belck was serious and he ended up performing with the orchestra. The resulting album, In Search Of Garaj Mahal, is an exciting reinterpretation of Garaj Mahal's music.

The show opens with "Chester The Pester." Horns swell in the intro before giving way to an exciting, up-tempo track featuring nimble soloing from Haque and a killer bass line from Will Wagner. Wagner later turns in some fine lead work of his own on this strong opener. On "The Shadow," the group effortlessly mixes jazz and funk to great effect. The song showcases a driving funk guitar lick and great interplay between the horns and guitar. Both here and throughout, Haque shows off his considerable chops and one can sense the fun the group is having in performing this material.

Trombones are used as a drone instrument over a tribal drumming pattern on "Hindi Gumbo." Brad Myers and Haque trade off impressive guitar licks in this fantastic funk-jazz fusion. "Alvin" showcases the CCM Jazz lab Band. A heavy funk track with wah-drenched guitars, it includes a biting lead guitar from Haque, whose tone is killer and cuts through the other instruments.

"Uneven Mantra" shows off some fine acoustic playing over a rhythmic drum track. Jim Feist adds a tabla solo while Joe Duran shines on saxophone. Haque once again gives a dazzling lead. The show ends with the appropriately titled "Witchdoctor," an exotic sounding track and a fine closer to the show.

Garaj Mahal may be no more, but their music lives on in this performance. Recorded over three nights in 2014 on the CCM campus, In Search Of Garaj Mahal is a fun record that showcases brilliant musicians trying to outdo one another. If this is the final word on the band, it is an excellent one indeed.