Steve Smith (Drums, Konokol); George Brooks (Saxophone); Prasanna (Guitar)
The music of the Raga Bop Trio is an organic blend of jazz, rock, funk, afro-caribbean and Indian classical music. In this music there is the strong influence of western harmony and melody as well as U.S. grooves and Euro-jazz atmospheric feels. From the Indian side, George Brooks brings his expertise in north Indian Hindustani music and Prasanna – being from Chennai, India – is an expert in south Indian Carnatic music. I grew up with the U.S. jazz/groove concept and starting in 2002 I’ve incorporated north and south Indian rhythms into my playing. For me, the distinctive quality of the Raga Bop Trio is that the writing and playing employ a seamless amalgamation of all the individual components.
The quintessential performance of Indian classical music consists of two main elements: melody and rhythm; raga and tala – a duo of a melodic instrument plus drums is a complete group. Playing duo gigs with guitarist Prasanna since 2004, I’ve experienced the potential of this type of musical partnership. George and I have played together in his Indian/fusion group Summit since 2003. Recently, while arranging music for a new Summit album, George and I spent several days playing as a duo and felt the freedom and strength in the pairing of melody and rhythm. This led us to the idea of forming a unique drums, sax and guitar trio with George, Prasanna and myself.
George and Prasanna wrote music specifically for the project. It was particularly challenging writing music for a trio without a bass player and these two prolific composers rose to the occasion. In May 2009, we all gathered at my home to play together as a trio for the first time. The chemistry worked exceptionally well and the new group created all the music for the album in three days. We jammed and rehearsed, refining approaches and arrangements and wrote two tunes collectively. Setting aside time in August 2009 to meet at Prairie Sun Studios in Northern CA, we played the music live in the studio recording the album in four days.
The unique trio setting brought out some new components in our collective creativity. I discovered that I needed to use more tom-toms in my playing to fill out the low-end. Sometimes that meant using more toms with my left hand comping under a jazz ride beat and other times it meant playing mainly toms as the time-feel, as behind the guitar solo in Ironically or for the entire tune with Katyayini. This idea developed as a result of my playing with a number of Indian percussionists and noticing how they accompany a soloist with “high-low” pitch inflections and, unlike drumset players, they do not use cymbals. In order to fill out the sound of the trio, Prasanna developed the use of arpeggios and cultivated a concept of seamlessly switching from playing chords, to bass lines, to melodies. To keep the sound of the group as big as possible and to showcase a new side of his playing, George added the bright singing tone of the alto sax on many tunes in addition to his main instrument, tenor sax.