Down Beat (p.58) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "'Big Bhangra' sports sweet soul-jazz guitar over a jazz-trap/tabla rhythm that's smooth and confident."
Personnel: Fareed Haque (guitar, guitars); Indrajit Banerjee (sitar); Kala Ramnath (violin); David Hartsman (flute, saxophone); Rob Clearfield (piano, keyboards); Willerm Delisfort (keyboards); John Paul (bass instrument); Corey Healy, Jason Smart (drums); Ganesh Kumar (kanjira); Kalyan Pathak (dholki, percussion); Salar Nader, Subrata Bhattacharya, jim feist (tabla).
Audio Mixers: Gary Mielke; Steve Wagner .
"East" Indian fusion music is not a new invention and has been done by artists of different disciplines -- i.e. the Beatles, Miles Davis, Shakti, Michael Wolff, etc. Where guitarist Fareed Haque draws a unique distinction is that it is a part of his heritage, largely unheard in his lengthy and diverse career until now. Assisted by the Flat Earth Ensemble (not to be confused with the Flat Earth Society), this true world Indo-fusion also incorporates funky R&B, traditional raga type sounds adapted to contemporary parameters, the improvisation of jazz, and occasionally a retro sound similar to Wes Montgomery or George Benson type grooves. And make no mistake, the beat and innate danceability of this music is evident and infectious, but sometimes you may have to count out the extended time signatures beyond 4/4 to fully appreciate how this music is translated to celebratory and group social contexts. Aside from the aspect that this music is a joy to listen to, there's a feeling of deja vu in that reflections of admittedly Bollywood cinematic discourse live in Haque's concept, yet there's a deeper feeling other than basic themes of romance, beyond typical drama and into eclectic mysticism that truly transcends previous attempts to fuse cultures. Haque's persona on various instruments is also fully expressed for the first time, as he plays the Samick "La Salle" or Stromberg jazz guitars, Ibanez six- and 12-string double neck, Gibson LS-5, acoustic classical, the Guistar (a sitar guitar), and Hammond B-3 organ. This multiple personality order starts with the funky "Big Bhangra," purportedly a shuffle, not in the blues sense, but incorporating soulful tabla drums, electronics, and an admittedly silly vocal. "Blu Hindoo" reflects a Joe Farrell retro-jazz CTI type groove element under the flute playing of David Hartsman, and closer to what Haque was known for in his early career. "The Hangar" has a country-rock road song feeling, going from counterpoint vocals and handclaps to guitar and flute in an ultimate fun song. The most complicated and authentic Indian piece is "32 Taxis," a 32-beat piece broken into specific segments, tabla driven, and ostensibly a jam within a raga. Of the less pronounced tracks, "The Chant" is a simple Shakti-like tune very melodic and vibrant, while "Uneven Mantra" in 7/8 time is peaceful with inert energy and inner beauty. "The Four Corners Suite" is in three movements -- "North" "South," and "West" -- a tribute to saxophonist Greg Osby that reflects his quirky, unpredictable style, going from John McLaughlin like 7/8 repeat modal and loud steely guitar from Haque and Hartsman on soprano sax, moving to louder no-time fusion, and concluding in a traditional manner with funky beats, handclaps, and flute. "East" and "Kala's Raga" complete the session, but are only available as digital downloads from fareed.com. Haque's artistry comes full circle, and full throttle with this excursion into a music he has had in his head for years, and now we finally get to experience it first hand. It is a unique project deserving its own singular place in the ethnic fusion world. ~ Michael G. Nastos