George Brooks: Spirit And Spice

Dan Bilawsky By

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Fusing Indian classical music and jazz has met with mixed results over the years. For a long time, it seemed that a combination of these disparate styles could only result in overly aggressive fusion music; hints of India or standard jazz fare, with tabla drumming thrown into the mix. Over time, a more organic musical merge has taken place thanks to artists like saxophonist George Brooks. Brooks has worked tirelessly—with his Summit band, Bombay Jazz group and Kirwani Quartet—to show that East and West can successfully meet in the middle.

While the instrumentation on Spirit And Spice—a saxophone-led jazz group combined with instruments endemic to India—clearly makes the case for Indo-jazz fusing, Brooks takes it further and imbues the rhythmic, metric, harmonic and melodic DNA of Indian classical music in his work. The amped-up, fast and funky grooves of "Monsoon Blues" start things off with a bang. Brooks is off and running, moving through the tricky head with guitarist Fareed Haque, and both men make a good showing with their solo spots. At first, the Indian influence lurks in the background, but not for long, as Sridar Parthasarathy's Indian percussion and vocals take over. Pianist Frank Martin introduces "Summit," and a heavenly blend of violin, saxophone and sitar follows. Layered ostinatos and a more distinctly Indian influence add to the music's hypnotic allure.

The slowly roaming "Silent Prayer-Madhuvanti" gives Brooks and bassist Kai Eckhardt a chance to move in tandem. While the music gets a bit cheerier as time passes, it begins in a desolate place, sounding like the musical representation of a lone man wandering the desert in search of water. Brooks delivers a slowly paced, soulful statement over a gently moving groove in seven on "Spirit." Becoming more passionate after several minutes, the music turns uplifting as it pours out of Brooks' saxophone. Ronu Majumdar's bansuri flute work proves to be a soothing presence on "Lalita," with drummer Steve Smith and tablaist Swapan Chaudhuri creating a subtle rhythmic foundation, allowing Brooks to softly and romantically glide over the music as female vocals occasionally glide by.

Smith gets some solo space, playing between band riffs, at the top of "Sri Rollins." Brooks ingeniously merges Calypso music—a staple in saxophonist Sonny Rollins' repertoire—with cycling rhythmic patterns native to Indian music. Brooks, Haque and Eckhardt all get space to show off their chops, and the band demonstrates great chemistry. A stately, India-meets-new age-meets-minstrel music sound emanates from "Peshkar For Hamza," where a simple, consistent, moderately paced tom groove anchors the music, while tablaist Zakir Hussain adds to the bigger rhythmic picture.

Brooks' soprano saxophone work on the album closer, "Casting," has a smooth, glossy sheen to it. Spirit And Spice may begin with some fireworks, but Brooks chooses to go out in a more introspective setting, with more sugar than spice.

Track Listing: Monsoon Blues; Spice; Silent Prayer-Madhuvanti; Spirit; Lalita; Sri Rollins; Peshkar For Hamza; Casting.

Personnel: George Brooks:saxophones; Fareed Haque: guitar; Kai Eckhard: bass; Steve Smith: drums; Zakir Huassain: tabla (7); Frank Martin: piano; Kala Ramnath: violin; Celso Alberti: percussion (8); Sridar Parthasarathy: mrdangam, ghatam, kanjira and vocals (1); Swapan Chaudari: tabla (2, 5).

Title: Spirit And Spice | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Self Produced


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