Summit | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Summit 

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The fusion of jazz and Indian classical music--both genres that emphasize improvisation--has a short but noble history. In the 50s John Coltrane developed a lasting interest in the subcontinent (reflected first in his composition "India"), and in the 70s John McLaughlin, a Coltrane devotee, abandoned his electric guitar to perform ragalike acoustic pieces with Indian musicians, including the brilliant young percussionist Zakir Hussain. But the best reference point for George Brooks's new combo, Summit, is a lesser-known mid-70s project led by altoist John Handy and the venerable Indian sarod player Ali Akbar Khan (and also featuring Hussain): it too matched Indian instruments with saxophone, combining jazz tonalities with the timbres of north Indian music for an archetypal meeting of East and West, most notably on an out-of-print album called Karuna Supreme. With Summit, Brooks casts his net a little wider: the band features Chicago guitarist Fareed Haque, whose own eclectic music reflects his Pakistani and Chilean heritages (and who doubles on electric sitar here); electric bassist Kai Eckhardt, who grew up in Germany with his Liberian father; the seemingly ubiquitous Hussain on tabla; and former Journey drummer Steve Smith, who taps his arena-rock past only occasionally, when Brooks chooses to emphasize Western beats over Indian pulse. Brooks comes honestly by his Indophilia and eclecticism: he first studied saxophone with onetime Count Basie stalwart Frank Foster, but he's also performed with Anthony Braxton and the Kronos Quartet, and in the 80s and 90s he toured regularly with minimalist composer Terry Riley (an early American exponent of Indian music) and renowned sitarist Krishna Bhatt. This may seem like a lot of multiculti baggage to heap onto one musical vehicle, but, as demonstrated on the new Summit (Earth Brother), the bandleader maintains a firm rein, steering each composition in just one of the several directions this group can travel. Friday, November 8, 7:30 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.

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