By: Richard B. Kamins, Step Tempest
The Curtis Brothers, pianist Zaccai and bassist Luques, grew up in Hartford, CT, and were the beneficiaries of the school that Jackie and Dollie McLean created, The Artists Collective. They both studied in Boston, MA, Zaccai at the New England Conservatory of Music and Luques at The Berklee College; after graduation, they formed their own band while maintaining an impressive number of sideman gigs. Zaccai has worked with Ralph Peterson, Wallace Roney, and Donald Harrison while Luques has been in-demand since moving to New York City, working with Eddie Palmieri, Etienne Charles, Albert Rivera, and many more. They started their Truth Revolution label in 2009 and now, with the arrival of “Algorithm“, have released five albums (including one recorded nine years before they had their own label).
The new label is a live date recorded in February of 2018 at The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme CT. The nine-song program is the result of a Chamber Music America grant that Zacccai won; originally composed for their own band, this recording three of their mentors, drummer Ralph Peterson, trumpeter Brian Lynch, and alto saxophonist Donald Harrison. Thanks to the presence of Mr. Peterson, much of this music is volcanic in nature (having seen the drummer perform in the space, he is surrounded by plastic for the recording; otherwise, his sound would swamp the band). But the drums are not the only focal point. Zaccai is an excellent composer with an ear for intelligent melodies and fine harmonies. He fashioned these songs to tell a story about the Brothers upbringing and the various mentors they encountered. “Chief” is Donald Harrison’s vehicle and he owns the space, his rippling phrases and powerful solo over the rollicking rhythm section is a joy to hear. Touring with the “Big Chief’s” band was the Brothers first professional gig.
The spotlight turns on Brian Lynch for “The Professor“, a finely-etched tune, well-constructed, a blues-soaked ballad that he makes his own with long phrases, breathless runs, snappy notes, at times in dialogue with Peterson while the Brothers hold the piece together. Luques takes a short but fine solo as the music fades to a close. Several tunes pay tribute to the sound and feel of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messenger, none moreso than “Undefined.” The front line blares out while Zaccai’s piano sets the stage. Soon, Lynch takes over, his muscular solo riding the waves of sound from the drums. Harrison roars into his solo and throughout, he too in dialogue with the drums. The thunder recedes for the beginning of the piano solo – the piano and drums engage in cat-and-mouse game before Zaccai dances forward, his brother’s bass lines dancing beneath him. You will scream alongside Side Door owner Ken Kitchings during the drum solo.
The album closes with “Sensei” and one its to hear Ralph Peterson in the lead. Zaccai and Luques supply the rhythmical melody line and the drummer tell the story. The shortest track on the disk (4:01), one still is impressed by the power and the determination that Peterson brings to the song (as well as the entire program).
“Algorithm“, with its Latin sensibilities and its impressive execution, is worth hearing for so many different reasons including the story lines, the wonderful musicianship, and to hear how the roles of the rhythm section and the front line can be blurred to great effect. Yes, the themes are well-drawn, the solos fiery yet often melodic, and the rhythms seductive and thunderous – for those of us in central Connecticut, The Curtis Brothers have grown up before our very ears, matured into excellent and thoughtful musicians. This album will rock your speakers (and your world) the way the performances rocked the audience at The Side Door.
For more information, go to truthrevolutionrecords.com/artists/curtisbrothers.