It says something about Art Blakey's decades-long mentorship of younger musicians that many of them continue to pay it forward, bringing into maturity a new generation of hard-boppers who are maintaining Blakey's indomitable spirit. Enter the Curtis Brotherspianist Zaccai and bassist Luqueswho have benefited enormously from the Blakey disciples they're partnered with on their latest release, Algorithm. Saxophonist Donald Harrison, trumpeter Brian Lynch and drummer Ralph Peterson all had deep roots with Blakey, and they have brought their accumulated wisdom and stellar chops to the Curtis Brothers band since its Completion of Proof (Truth Revolution Records, 2011). Together the five demonstrate convincingly that there's a lot of life left in the hard-bop tradition, especially when played with the verve and dedication these guys bring to the job.
As the album's title would suggest, there's a mathematical inspiration to many of the nine tracks, all of which were penned by Zaccai Curtis. Pieces like "Phi," which draws from the idea of the golden ratio, or "Staircase of Mount Meru," dedicated to Pingala, the Indian mathematician first credited with envisioning Pascal's Triangle, have plenty of creativity behind them, both conceptually and musicallythe latter being of particular value for a live recording that exudes energy from the outset. The album's opener, "Three Points and a Sphere," is a hard-charging track that gets things moving, with solo opportunities for all, Peterson excepted. But Peterson is in no way neglected on this record, as his crackling feistiness is omnipresent, providing much of the muscle that makes the music thrive.
The pacing of the album is another of its strengths, with the lilting, New Orleans-style rhythm of "Phi" bringing things down to a simmer after the full boil of "Three Points," and with a terrific ballad, "Torus," counterbalancing the animated energy of "Chief" and the impassioned Afro-Cuban groove of "Parametric." Throughout, there is plenty of room for the upstarts to make their claim: witness Zaccai's fervid workout on "Three Points" and Luques' sensitive solo on "Torus." But just as important are the brothers' acknowledged debts to their mentors. "Chief" is Harrison's vehicle, and he takes full advantage of his opportunity to provide a solo that is both soulful and rhythmically nimble. "The Professor" is for Lynch, and his expert lyricism shines marvelously on the modal-based cut. Peterson gets his own chance to stretch out on the closer, "Sensei," and he does so with aplomb, the track's infectious Afro-Cuban rhythm giving him an ideal platform for some remarkably fluid, thunderous stick work.
As the Curtis Brothers continue their upward trajectory, it's gratifying to see them recognizing the importance of their predecessors. It won't be long before they'll be offering the same inspiration to an even newer generation of musicians keeping the flame of hard-bop burning.
Three Points and a Sphere; Phi; Chief; Parametric; Torus; The Professor; Undefined; Staircase of Mount Meru; Sensei.
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