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Doing it for the people



Garaj Mahal makes every show a tribute to their fans

Who: Garaj Mahal

Where: Boot Pub

When: New Year's Eve

Tickets: $60

What's old is new again, so goes the adage.

With the exception of maybe Lawrence Welk, musicians are generally focused on the opposite. What's old is tradition, what's new is progression, and everybody wants to be progressive.

But in the case of super jam band Garaj Mahal, what's old is indeed new. New album, Mondo Garaj was recorded back at the turn of the millennium, right around the time the band got together.

Mondo Garaj follows hot on the heels of the band's triple live CD release and drummer Alan Hertz notes the new album's use of atmospheric effects and other studio wizardry, a departure from the organic live recording process. The sound is partly a result of collaborations with DJs such as Roto from soundscape band Air and the UK's DJ Fly.

But while the DJ presence is there, it doesn't mean they've taken over the Garaj, turning the jam-groove into a hip-hop-based acid jazz sound.

"It's more of a marijuana jazz record," says Hertz, laughing. "It does bring a sense of modern-ness to the quartet when we have DJs as special guests.

"I'm really proud of the record," he adds, "it's got a lot of nice ear candy on it."

The reason for the delay, band members say, is "administrative" - suggesting a web of label dealings it would be wise not to even begin to touch. But interestingly, once given the go-ahead the band was still excited to release the material instead of stuffing it under the rug.

"We definitely feel very good about putting this out right now," says keyboardist Eric Levy. "We realize that we've definitely evolved as a band, but at the same time, I don't feel bad about the album in any way. I feel that it perfectly captures where we were at the time in terms of musical direction, even if we're going in a different direction these days."

Direction is important to jam bands, since they prefer to look ahead instead of following the map. Hack jammers try and fake the improv elements, letting one or two players take the reins, the others chilling out in support roles, but in the case of Mahal, each member is the real deal. Guitarist Fareed Haque is a professor of jazz in Chicago, Levy, an ex-student. Hertz and bassist Kai Eckhardt round out the talented quartet. There's no frontman, no prima donna vocalist, just a groove collective in the truest sense.

"We're one of the more extreme bands on that end," says Levy. "We like to have basic forms, but if someone comes in with a musical idea that hasn't been played before on a certain tune, we'll all try and explore that idea together."

And when they do, the sonic result is usually mind-blowing as fans of the band's previous Whistler appearances, back in May at the Boot Pub and at August's Zoophous event, will attest.

Mahal extends their lack of musical possessiveness to the audience as well. Eckhardt explains the name itself came from a fan, and the upcoming Whistler date will feature a set list chosen by a fan from a contest via promotion company Upstream Entertainment's Web site.

The willingness to give their fans some credit, the 'do unto the audience' golden rule, has rewarded them with exceptionally loyal fans. According to Levy, local show goers shouldn't be surprised to find their fellow revellers hail from all over since the band has been barraged with queries about the Whistler show from fans willing to go to any distance just to ring in 2004 to the music of Garaj Mahal.

"It's hard to go up and not be motivated to play when you know that there's people who have driven for hours and hours and hours and still pay cover and are all there just to experience our music," says Levy. "That's just an incredible compliment."

Tickets for Garaj Mahal's New Year's Eve performance are $60, available through TicketMaster and the venue. Go to www.upstreamentertainment.com or call 604-932-3338 for more information.

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