Album review: Fareed Haque + The Flat Earth Ensemble, "Flat Planet" 

In the helpful and thoughtful liner notes to his Flat Planet, guitarist and leader of the Flat Earth Ensemble Fareed Haque writes of the opening track, "Big Bhangra," a sprawling, funky, fusion number with infectious, percussive vocals, "Imagine a long long caravan approaching the Rawalpindi spice bazaar complete with camels, donkeys and cassettes of Al Green for sale. Oi!" It's that relationship - between the folk music of South Asia (specifically northwest India and Pakistan) and jazz, soul and other American music - that Haque explores on Flat Planet, a groovy, virtuosic album released in March on Indianapolis-based Owl Studios.

Haque's thesis for the album - stated in the liner notes - is that gospel and South Asian folk music play largely the same role: They're both high-energy, danceable, hypnotic, charismatic music. Thus, just as many a jazz musician has drawn on gospel, Haque is drawing on his indigenous roots.

Tabla, kanjira, sitar and miscellaneous Indian percussion accompany Haque, a speedy player who isn't afraid to use effects pedals with a battery of electric guitars, and who plays just as beautifully on a classical acoustic guitar. The rest of the band includes electric bass, drum set and keyboards - a jazz setup that wouldn't sound out of place in Haque's jam/fusion band Garaj Mahal (also on Owl). But if the instrumentation leans towards jazz, the rhythms are typically drawn from those indigenous folk musics; for instance, a seven-beat cycle on "Uneven Mantra" puts a Western listener on shifting ground.

Some of the most stripped-down tracks are the most captivating - "32 Taxis," featuring Haque on multitracked guitars and Ganesh Kumar on kanjira, is grounded on a complex, shifting rhythmic cycle and has an improvised feel that, more than anything, suggests that these players could go all night without repeating an idea or losing the beat.

The strongest soloing on the record comes during "The Four Corners Suite," a four-part piece in memory of saxophonist Greg Osby that starts aggressive, insistent and breathless, and relaxes into a laid-back soul shuffle on the third movement, "West."

Not that you'll hear that fourth movement on the record; even though there's enough songs described in the liner notes to necessitate a second disc, the numbers that couldn't fit on a single disc are instead available for purchase online (both the fourth movement of "Four Corners" and recordings with Hindi violinist Kala Ramnath collected under the heading "Kala's Ragas.")

Like the best ceremonial or dance music, Flat Planet can both hypnotically absorb and reward a closer, more cerebral listen.

Listen to "North" from Flat Planet (via

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Scott Shoger

Scott Shoger

Scott Shoger staggered up to NUVO's door one summer afternoon, a little drunk, poor and crazy-haired, muttering about future Mayor Ballard. He was taken in, hosed down, given NUVO-emblazoned clothes to wear and allowed to work in exchange for food and bylines. Refusing to leave the premises, he was hired on as... more

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