An Interview: Fareed's Departure From Garaj Mahal
Words By J-man
J-man: Recently it was brought to my attention that you are departing from Garaj Mahal. Can you talk about what prompted your departure and the transition to your new project in Math Games?
Fareed: Sure, well… First of all we have been doing Garaj Mahal for almost eleven years… and I have a lot of other musical projects and musical ideas that I wanted to explore… and a couple of opportunities that came my way that I wanted to pursue. For a lot of reasons it just ended up being that we were just going in different directions. Sean Rickman sings quite a bit. Now, I’m not sure about this and you may have to check with them; but it seems that between Kai and Sean, they seem to be doing more vocal tunes… and I am definitely in more of a jazz direction.
I just completed a beautiful jazz trio album with a couple of jazz legends… Billy Hart on drums. Billy Hart played with Miles Davis on the album “On The Corner” and he also played with Herbie Hancock, and guys like Pat Martino, Wes Montgomery and Grant Green. The list is long. Then George Mraz on bass. He played with Stan Getz and Chet Baker and other legendary musicians from the jazz scene.
So we made a beautiful straight-ahead trio album and in the meantime I have been working more and more… In fact, one of the reasons I am leaving Garaj Mahal is probably because of Eric Levy getting the Moog guitar into my hand. I have been writing more music for the Moog guitar…
J-man: I heard the Moog disk you did with Garaj Mahal, Phil sent it over… I was really impressed with it. It was not typical of the stuff you were doing with Garaj Mahal. I really dug the spacey aspect mixed with the capabilities of the Moog guitar… It was really innovative and exciting to hear.
Fareed: Cool. Thanks, man. Well essentially Math Games is going more in that direction. We have sort of a groove sensibility along with the electronica. I’m not sure if Phil sent you any Math Games tracks but that was really the birth of it and it’s going way way further than that. We have a visuals guy, working visuals…
Fareed: … And the visuals are actually going to be coordinated with the music. There are lot of mathematical and geometrical ideas that we have put into the music, as well as the visuals…
J-man: I have a question that I have been wanting to ask you. With someone like yourself who is a respected jazz musician; what pushes you towards… say, creating visuals at a show or working with an electronica vibe? I mean, you’re a jazz musician… So that’s kind of outside of the box.
Fareed: Well, I mean… I kind of feel like jazz is an approach and an attitude. Of course it’s a style of music and of course it involves improvisation with the jazz language. But I think that if jazz can’t relate to the new music and the new sounds that are a part of our culture now days, that it’s destine for obsolescence.
J-man: So it’s more of a push to adapt to what’s happening currently with music?
Fareed: … In a way yeah. But, on the other hand I think it’s cool. I just really like that music (Laughs). And for the most part it’s really cool sounds and really cool beats but shitty music. You know? Theres like no melodies, no chord changes, nothings happening… But it’s this really cool texture… And of course I am making these huge generalizations. There is some great music out there in that genre. But for the most part it’s some sounds and some spookiness and everybody raves and has a good time.
But I think that if you couple all of those with sonic elements and root elements, with actual melodies, chord changes and compositions; that are free from having to be regular song form because we’re not talking about someone singing the melody or the hook. We’re not talking about a pop song anymore so it’s a format that is in and of itself very compositional… instrumental electronic music. And potentially a freeform kind of music. Because it doesn’t really have to have a hook, in the way that pop music has to have a hook. And so it opens itself up to a lot of compositional ideas, and I think there is a sense that technology, and mathematics, and geometry, and physics, and music, and electronics are starting to come together in our world everyday. Those things within our culture are all related to each other. So I think there is more and more of an understanding intuitively within our culture, or all of the complexities… And I’m writing a kind of music that I fell relates to that.
J-man: How does Math Games differ than what you’ve been doing with Garaj Mahal?
Fareed: I would think it’s more conceptual. There’s still a lot of jamming and a lot of trance… There’s a lot of funk in there. But it’s definitely more conceptual and less… four guys on stage just playing.
Garaj is a great band. It’s a fantastic band and nothing is ever going to replace that. But after ten years of playing, more or less the same tunes every night…
J-man: Right, I understand… I’m curious; what was the highlight of your career with Garaj Mahal? Also, do you see yourself getting back with Garaj Mahal on any level at some point? Maybe a reunion at some point or selected dates? I know that they are planning on proceeding without you, but will you come back to that musical idea or is that something that you’ll be putting in your past?
Fareed: It’s all good vibes… There are no bad vibes at all….
J-man: … I wasn’t implying that there would have been bad vibes…
Fareed: … In fact, not this week, but the week after Christmas… With Steve Smith, I just found out that I am going to Indonesia… and it turns out that Kai is going to be there to (Laughs) and I think, if it’s the same band that he was playing with, I think Sean is in that band too…
Fareed: I go fuckin’ half way around the world and I can’t get my head out of that universe… Fuck. But no, it’s all good vibes. I think you need to check with them, but I think they are going to continue as a trio. So that means that it’s going to evolve in a different way.
One of the things about the Moog guitar in Math Games is that the Moog guitar allows you to do a lot of things in terms of playing melodies and holding chords and a lot of different textures that I just couldn’t do on a standard guitar. But it also kind of gets in the way of the piano player… Leaving no role for a keyboard player in that music. That’s just the nature of the Moog guitar…
J-man: Right, you’re utilizing effects that would otherwise be produced by the keys…
Fareed: … And so, in a way when I was writing this music I was like “What’s the keyboard part? Shit, there is no keyboard part. I’m playing the keyboard part…" Kind of like if you were in the Charlie Hunter Band and you said …
“Why is there no bass part?”
“Well Charlie is playing the bass…”
“Why is there no guitar part?”
“Well, Charlie is playing the bass and the guitar.”
So… There is no bass player (Laughs). It’s the same thing with the Moog and the keyboards. Also, what the Moog guitar does best is… Polyphonic or multiple sounds. In a way that sort of opens up the possibility for a trio. But in a quartet setting, I play a traditional guitar because the Moog guitar doesn’t do what it does as effectively.
J-man: Going back to the earlier part of the question: Do you have a specific moment that you view as the highlight or climax of your career with Garaj Mahal?
Fareed: Wow… There are so many amazing… I could write ten books…
J-man: You should (Laughs).
Fareed: (Laughs) Garaj Mahal is one of those bands where I’d have to wait like a hundred years until everyone is dead to publish it… Like Mark Twain’s auto biography.
I’ve had a lot of great memories, but I think some of the best have to be some of the late-night shows we’ve done at High Sierra, and more recently we’ve done some cool ones out here in the easy. A lot of the late-night Garaj gigs are always really magical and quite spacey. The band just tends to, when we don’t have the restrictions of curfew or time, and we have a… lubricated audience, shall we say. The energy seems to take off in a way that no other band before or I think any band since… It’s very special. I’m excited to continue to do it once in a while.
J-man: We’re going to be doing our best to get folks out to your shows, provide coverage and familiarize our readers about what is you’re doing with Math Games…
J-man: Beyond what you have been playing an immersing yourself in, What have you been listening to recently?
Fareed: Well, I listen to all kinds of stuff. To be honest, I don’t as get much of a chance to listen to music as I wish I did because I am so busy doing it that I pretty much practice the music that I’ve got in my head. Then working with the Flat Earth Ensemble I have been learning all of these Bengali folk tunes, which is kicking my butt. I listened to a lot of Bengali folk tunes for a while (Laughs) and I have been listening to a lot of straight ahead jazz. Also, our new record which we’ve been working on… mixing and all of that.
I have been listening to a lot of straight ahead jazz records, trying to get a handle on how it’s mixed. A lot of the old jazz records are mixed really differently than pop records; The drums are usually on one side, the piano is on one side and the bass is in the middle. So we’re trying to figure out how to make this record sound like one of those old 50’s records…
J-man: I see. That’s cool… What point are you at in the recording process?
Fareed: Well, we recorded the whole record in two and a half days.
J-man: Wow, that’s incredible…
Fareed: Some tunes we did three or four takes for each tune and some tunes just one take. So we’re trying to figure out which takes are the best ones and putting it all together. Ultimately with jazz trio records I'd say fifty percent of the album is playing and fifty percent is silent and getting it to be full is just hard. In the jazz trio… The Billy Hart and George Mraz record, I just play one six string guitar with an amp and a chord. It couldn’t be further away from Math Games. No technology, no electronics, no weird stuff. Just an upright bass, a standard drum set and one six string electric guitar, one amp…
J-man: When can we anticipate that album?
Fareed: We’re looking at March. The San Francisco Jazz Festival… It looks like they are interested, Charlotte Jazz Festival is interested. So, I should have some rough tracks posted relatively soon. Maybe one or two tracks.
J-man: Well Fareed, I really appreciate everything that you do. I am a huge fan and I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us again. A lot of our readers absolutely love what you have done, solo, with Garaj Mahal and now with Math Games. I wish you the best and look forward to speaking with you again soon.
Fareed: Definitely! I really appreciate this coverage and it means a lot. Garaj is a special group and it’s always going to be a special band, and who knows, there may even be some collaboration between me and Hertz in the future.
J-man: Excellent. Well, I loved the stuff you did with Garaj Mahal, though I also understand the necessity to move on and explore other projects… I do hope that you will have a chance to do some work with Garaj Mahal again.
Fareed: Absolutely. Thanks, man.
J-man: Take Care, Fareed.