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Curtis Brothers Quartet: Syzygy

Paul Rauch By

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Jazz music is constantly in a state of flux. It feeds off of new ideas and innovation to keep the music vital, and growing. The mantle is passed from generation to generation, eschewing the infective glare of pop notoriety to maintain the artistic presence that moves the music forward, now seventeen years into a new century. In jazz today, there is a groundswell of young musicians who understand this perspective, forging new paths into the future, while grounded in the traditions of the past. They possess the understanding of paying dues, of developing one's craft within the tenets of grand tradition, before making their own statements of innovation that define what jazz is today, and portends to be on the journey moving forward. This deep level of understanding and musical intelligence is what fuels musical insight, and original approach.

There is a beacon of light emanating from New York City these days, that clearly illustrates this approach and subsequent innovative results, in the person(s), of the Curtis Brothers, bassist Luques, and pianist Zaccai. Originally hailing from Connecticut, the brothers began their musical journey at the Artist's Collective, under the auspices of NEA Jazz Master Jackie McLean. Before heading to New York City, the brothers honed their respective crafts in the Boston area, Luques at Berklee College of Music, and Zaccai at the New England Conservatory. Since that time, the brothers have become true go to players with the likes of Eddie Palmieri, Gary Burton, Orrin Evans, Sean Jones, Brian Lynch, and Donald Harrison to name a few. They have recorded albums under the Curtis Brothers brand, including the brilliant Completion of Proof (Truth Revolution, 2012), and have created a recording collective, Truth Revolution Records, that has been producing albums of high quality for a few years now. The brothers have recently released a fabulous quartet album, Syzygy on that label, that brings to light their ability to combine their roots in bebop, hard bop, and latin, without a notion of being a hybrid, or fusion form. Indeed, it is spoken in one jazz commonality, one inventive dialect that is whole in itself.

This album is not an effort to break down barriers, or forge into unknown territory, but a clear communicative statement of their own personal musical heritage within the jazz tradition. The music incorporates the blues, swings hard, and contains elements that speak to their music as being a confluence of jazz inroads that become a pathway for musical integration that speaks to itself as one. While many jazz artists these days refute what is undeniably the core root elements of the Afro-Caribbean-New Orleans tradition, Syzygy, blends blues harmonies with swing and latin rhythms, indeed all the classic elements of the jazz language, stating emphatically the vast amount of uncovered ground that still resides within the jazz idiom.

The quartet is anchored by the superb rhythm section of drummer Richie Barshay, and percussionist Reinaldo de Jesus, combining with bassist Luques Curtis to form the perfect foundational continuum for the swinging piano and fender rhodes of Zaccai Curtis. The album insightfully covers jazz classics, soul standards and the title track composed by brother Zaccai.

Barshay and DeJesus are the driving force behind the opening salvo, the Mongo Santamaria standard, "Afro Blue." Zaccai Curtis' interpretation on fender rhodes sets the precedent for the entire record, utilizing the essential rhythmic and harmonic principles that state homage to both the bop and latin jazz tradition, in an authentic and original way. Luques Curtis' syncopation, timing, note choices, and pure intonation expresses the core principles of the lineage of historic players such as Paul Chambers, Eddie Gomez, and Israel "Cachao" Lopez, yet presenting a standard for a new generation of double bass advocates, firmly establishing himself as one of the true guiding and innovative voices in jazz today. His communicative interaction, and soloing are truly remarkable throughout this recording.

The take on two bebop classics, Bud Powell's "Hallucinations," and the Dizzy Gillespie classic, "Bebop," again reveals the thematic presence of Syzygy-the one world ancestry of the Afro-Caribbean tradition the Curtis Brothers have steeped themselves in since their beginnings in Hartford. On "Hallucinations," Zaccai states the melody, and solos pensively, building to a passionate release upheld by a rhythm section that percussively breaks down the barriers between jazz traditions that can be seen through the lens of separation, yet embraced with a single image. Luques' solo, and rhythmic interplay with Barshay and DeJesus firmly upholds the vibe of this record, building to a polyrhythmic crescendo on "Bebop," harkening back to Gillespie's Afro-Cuban inventions with percussion master, Chano Pozo.

The Zaccai Curtis composition, "Syzygy," is the lone original on the album, and encapsulates in many ways, what all the buzz is around the Curtis Brothers, and their work on record, and on stage. Again, Barshay and DeJesus create the feel and rhythmic space that allows the swinging piano of Zaccai, and the abstract syncopation of bassist Luques, to rise above the fray.

Jazz music is in a constant growth pattern of new ideas, and new techniques, that require new energy and passion. It needn't be genre defining, but vital, expressed deeply, in a soulful way. The Curtis Brothers are extending established traditions, throughout their work, and certainly here, on Syzygy. Whether striking out on their own as another historic brotherhood in jazz, or enhancing the work of many of the masters on the scene today, Zaccai and Luques Curtis will continue to be a compass charting a new journey through the turbulent waters of 21st century music. Their ability to combine different sounds and traditions into their own genuine approach, is unique and refreshing. They are purveyors of optimism, that jazz music is in the hands of an inspired movement , that continues the traditions blessed by the legacy of the masters, touched by that which is yet to come.

Track Listing: Afro Blue; Hallucinations; Bebop; Betcha By Golly Wow; Yes or No; Syzygy; Start the World I Want To Get On; All of You; Hi-Heel Sneakers; What's Going On; Cheer Up Charlie; Quicksilver

Personnel: Zaccai Curtis: piano, rhodes; Luques Curtis: bass; Richie Barshay: drums; Reinaldo De Jesus: congas

Title: Syzygy | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Truth Revolution Records

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