New York born saxophonist George Brooks has studied with noted saxophonist/arranger Frank Foster and at the New England Conservatory of Music where he studied with saxophone guru Joe Allard and contemporary jazz theorist George Russell. Past musical associations include spending time playing with Jaki Byard, Slide Hampton and Jimmy Guiffre. A move to the West Coast in 1979, along with trips to India, brought Brooks into contact with the music and musicians of that region. It is from the combination of those two worlds the music on Summit draws its inspiration.
Here Brooks shares the stage, as it were, with tabla/percussionist Zakir Hussain, guitarist/sitarist Fareed Haque, bassist Kai Eckhardt and renowned drum chops monster Steve Smith. The result is an eastern-tinged tour of various emotive states all brought to bear under the umbrella of jazz.
The disc opens with a mid-tempo ostinato raga underpinning on top of which Brooks weaves American jazz lines. The two disparate concepts are in perfect consort due in large part to the deft percussion work which serves to amplify and augment, not get in the way of, the polyphony. Hussain’s tabla solo blends the best of East with West before Brooks comes back in with his full-bodied John Klemmer-ish tenor saxophone tone. The melody comes back before the ostinati pattern takes the tune home.
Throughout Brooks, along with all of the Americans, always feel like they are right in-sync and totally at home working within the boundaries of Eastern music. The opposite is also true, as the Eastern musicians sound totally at ease playing accompaniment and sharing the spotlight in jazz inflected soundscapes - think Oregon with a more percussive bite.
The ensemble tackles more straight-ahead jazz concepts on Brooks’ "McCoy." Here Smith’s insistent percussion work mixes with Haque’s excellent guitar work and Eckhardt’s unrelenting propelling lines to drive the hard-bop and overt jazz language into an exciting tour de-force.
If there is a problem with the disc it lies in the sameness of the melodies. The possibilities of this ensemble seem endless. Anytime a group of fantastic musicians gets together to share the love of music the potential is infinite, but no more so than the vast range of abilities and instrumental sounds brought together here. If the group continues their work, and one can’t but hope they do, perhaps a broader spectrum of compositional concepts would enliven the total effort.