By and large, Flat Planet is a sublime melding of jam-jazz, R&B and Indian/Pakistani music. It’s the kind of musical convergence that’s not easy to pull off, but Haque — a guitarist of Pakistani and Chilean descent probably best known for his membership in Garaj Mahal — and his group manage it organically.
Most of the tracks groove along over a cauldron of trap drums laced with the melodic snap of tabla. Complementing Haque’s virtuosic playing — on electric and acoustic — are an array of Indian instruments such as sitar and kanjira. At its best, the music has a mesmerizing effect, often the result of hypnotic vamps that provide the backdrop for extended improvisations.
The album’s allure is evident from the get-go with “Big Bhangra,” a 10-minute piece that lopes along on a kind of languid go-go beat, and showcases a tasty Fender Rhodes solo followed by Haque’s fleet, insistent jazz foray, which gives way to a tabla showcase. World party music. “Fur Peace” sounds like an outtake from Miles’ In a Silent Way outfitted with ethnic elements.
Despite it’s mostly let-it-flow feel, Flat Planet is built around compositions. And sometimes the melodies are overly busy, coming off as tricky just for the sake of it. It’s when the disc veers into fusion/prog mode that it gets off track. Fortunately, this diversion from the mission happens in only a couple of pieces late in the CD: “North” and "South.” They’re part of “The Four Corners Suite,” and sound as if they could’ve been written when Haque was sleeping over at Al Di Meola’s house.
Order is restored on the last track, “West,” which sounds like an updated version of a 1960s Cannonball Adderley soul-jazz tune, handclaps and all — and a smattering of tabla. (Owl Studios)