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George Brooks Summit: Spirit and Spice

Jerry D'Souza By

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The concept of fusing Indian classical music and jazz is not new. Saxophonist George Brooks, a longtime votary of the form, has honed his skills through several conglomerations: Bombay Jazz, with guitarist Larry Coryell and flautist Ronu Majumdar; the Kirwani Quartet, with Dutch harpist Gwyneth Wentink and Indian flute maestro Hari Prasad Chaurasia; and Summit, with guitarist Fareed Haque, bassist Kai Eckhardt and drummer Steve Smith. His compositions reflect the soul and character of Indian classical music, but open themselves to improvisation.

Here, Summit plays on two tracks. The meditative soul of "Silent Prayer—Madhuvanti" is evoked by Brooks, who lingers in the melody, letting it soak in before breaking into quick phrases that signal a deeper import into Indian classical music. He never loses the thread of communication and, with Haque gently complementing him, the tune makes a profound impact. "Sri Rollins" (Sri is the Hindi word for Mr.), in honor of Sonny Rollins, is a sprightly calypso. A change from the grain of the other compositions, it is quite irresistible.

Brooks has a stellar cast of Indian musicians on the disc's remaining six tracks, which was recorded in Mumbai. They help realize the music channeling their vision in tandem with the original band.

Violinist Kala Ramnath works in close cleave with Brooks on "Spice." Their voices speak eloquently, Ramnath infusing her phrases with deep fluidity, while Brooks takes the saxophone deep into the groove, drawing intensely from the melody's essence. The beat gradually enlivens as Ramnath stokes the fires, with Haque cueing in on the refrain, bending the notes and inserting juicy consonants. The pulse descends into an ocean of calm as Martin and sitarist Niladri Kumar come in.

"Monsoon Blues" has Brooks leading the charge on this hard-driving tune. It has a funky edge and jumps into flinty bop, with Brooks showing off his considerable jazz inventions. Haque illumines with his dynamics and harmony, his passion incessantly palpable. The rhythm section makes the beat dance, with Smith swooping in with konnakol (vocal percussion), and the contribution of Indian percussionist Sridhar Parthasarathy, who adds to the spontaneity, cannot go remiss.

Spontaneous spirit and a load of melodic spice make this a divine treat.

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