Mondo Garaj is the debut studio album and fourth album by the jazz/rock/funk/fusion/jam band Garaj Mahal.
Recorded in late 2000 and early 2001 at In The Pocket Studio in Sonoma County, CA, then subsequently mixed/mastered over 2001 and 2002 at Talcott Mountain Studio in Simsbury, CT, The Plant Studios in Sausalito, CA, Phelps Studios in San Francisco, CA, and Fluffland Studio in San Anselmo, CA, and finally released in 2003 on Harmonized Records as the band’s first studio effort (after three live discs), Mondo Garaj captures Garaj Mahal in its relative infancy. Keyboardist Eric Levy had recently joined, and although he’s prominent on these songs, his contributions have grown considerably since. In fact, only two songs from this album appeared on any of the subsequent live discs. But with musicians of the caliber and experience of bassist Kai Eckhardt, drummer Alan Hertz, and Fareed Haque on guitars, there is nothing tentative about this recording.
Sounding like a combination of Return to Forever and the Mahavishnu Orchestra in their ’70s heyday, Garaj’s jazz-rock fusion requires chops and innovation to stay interesting and avoid aimless noodling. They succeed, and even though the primarily instrumental cuts average seven minutes each, they never become repetitious or overstay their welcome. All four musicians are extraordinarily talented, but each adds his own instrumental prowess without hogging the spotlight.
Not surprisingly, Haque’s guitar, especially his “sitar guitar,” takes center stage and infuses an East Indian feel to songs like “Beware My Ethnic Heart.” But he leaves plenty of solo space for Levy, whose fleet-fingered synthesizer work — reminiscent of Jan Hammer — trades licks with speed and precision on the opening funky workout “Mondo Garaj.” Michael Kang (musician) of The String Cheese Incident is featured as are DJ Fly Agaric 23 and DJ Roto (a.k.a. musician/journalist James Rotondi) who add turntable scratching, loops, and samples to keep the sound contemporary, but this is really a showcase for the jaw-dropping talents of the four band members.
The band gels on all the tracks, but shows what it can do on “Hindi Gumbo,” which features Haque’s acoustic sitar/guitar solo. Nothing takes the place of seeing the band pull this off live, but Mondo Garaj provides a snapshot of how these four gifted individuals — each of whom could be a band leader in his own right — combine into a fine-tuned unit.
- Mondo Garaj (Eckhardt) – 5:33
- Hindi Gumbo (Haque) – 5:31
- Be Dope (Hertz, Levy) – 6:11
- Junct (Haque) – 6:22
- Poodle Factory (Hertz) – 3:51
- The Big Smack Down (Eckhardt) – 0:35
- New Meeting (Hertz) – 8:04
- Beware My Ethnic Heart (Haque) – 9:11
- Madagascar (Hertz, Levy) – 5:21
- Gulam Sabri (Haque) – 7:47
- Bajo (Hertz) – 7:07
- Milk Carton Blues (Levy) – 3:06
- Fareed Haque – Guitar, Guitar (Electric), Guitar (Steel), Sitar (Electric)
- Alan Hertz – Drums, Art Direction, Mixing, Photography, Cover Photo, Roland Synthesizer
- Eric Levy – Keyboards, Organ (Hammond), Clavinet, Fender Rhodes, Mini Moog, Oberheim OB8, Prophet 5, Sequential Circuits
- Kai Eckhardt – Bass
- Michael Kang – Fiddle, Mandolin
- DJ Fly – Agaric 23 Turntables
- DJ Roto – Turntables, Sampling, Effects
- Garaj Mahal – Arranger, Producer, Art Direction, Mixing
- Christian Weyers – Producer, Executive Producer
- Toni Fishman – Executive Producer
- Justin Phelps – Engineer
- John Cuniberti – Mastering Engineer
- Jason Andrew – Assistant Engineer
- Mark Fassler – Assistant Engineer
- Theresa Reed – Photography
- David “Hot Rod” Shuman – Mixing Assistant