Being Indian

Approaching music differently George Brooks

Approaching music differently George Brooks  


New York-based saxophonist George Brooks on his most recent collaboration in the jazz fusion space – Aspada

For someone who has been visiting India for decades now, New York-based saxophonist George Brooks stopped feeling like a visitor to the country a long time ago. He says with a laugh over the phone, “I have so many friends here that it just feels normal.”

Considered one of the leading voices in Indian jazz fusion, Brooks also studied Indian classical music in the 80’s under classical singer Pandit Pran Nath. Brooks has been best known for his work with fusion and jazz artistes ranging from guitarist John McLaughlin and Etta James to renowned ghatam artiste T.H. Vikku Vinayakram and tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain. These connections have steadily led to more projects and collaborations in the jazz fusion space, the recent one being Aspada with Vinayakram’s son and well-known kanjira artiste V. Selvaganesh. Aspada also includes top players such as jazz pianist Osam Ezzeldin, flautist Ravichandra Kulur and French bassist Mishko M’Ba.

Brooks recalls their first meeting together in June last year, at the Stanford Jazz Festival, which led to Aspada. “There’s an organisation – the same people who organise the Jaipur Literature Festival – that put together an event called Eye on India. They brought Selva and Vikku to the US last summer and when they told me they were coming, I arranged for this performance at the Stanford Jazz Festival. That’s how it began.” Brooks has also worked with Selvaganesh’s fusion project Arka recently, where he reconnected with Kulur. Brooks adds, “I actually met him several years before when he was in California with Anoushka Shankar. We’re all kind of associated in different ways and we have a particular repertoire for Aspada.”

The group kicked off shows in India last month, and are now in Bengaluru. Most of the music is written by Brooks, while some is written by Osam and some by Selvaganesh. “Everybody brings their strengths to it. There’s a definitely a strong foundation on Carnatic rhythmic ideas and theories along with our experience in jazz. I think it is a pretty natural blend of Carnatic elements and western jazz elements,” Brooks says of the sound.

When it is a blend of jazz and Indian classical, you know the sound is going to be complicated, in a good way. In addition to performing songs like ‘McCoy’, which is a tribute Brooks wrote to American pianist McCoy Tyner (who had been a part of legendary jazzman John Coltrane’s quartet) on his 2002 album Summit, there are songs in 11-beat and 13-beat time cycles like ‘Now I See You’. Brooks adds, “Osam is comfortable in any time cycle. So there’s a lot of music with a lot of different approaches.”

Despite being only a few concerts old, Aspada does have plans to get into the studio soon. Brooks says that will most likely happen when Selvaganesh visits the US next month. The saxophonist adds, “We’ll probably finish some material by that time. We’ve done a little bit of studio recording back in the US and made a few video teasers with the band.”

(Aspada performs live at BFLat, Indiranagar on February 4. Tickets: Rs 500, available on

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 9:03:44 AM |

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