New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: zaccai curtis

A Hard-Swinging, Seriously Woke New Album amd a Jazz Standard Release Show by Trumpeter Josh Lawrence

It takes guts to open your new album with a joyous, lyrical jazz waltz, but that’s what trumpeter Josh Lawrence does on his latest release Triptych, streaming at Posi-Tone Records. He’s playing the album release show on March 13 at the Jazz Standard with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM; cover is $30.

The record’s title reflects its three suites. The first one, a threesome of love songs, is interspersed among the other tracks. The second, Lost Works, draws on the Nazis’ confiscation and eventual destruction of three priceless Kandinsky paintings during World War II, a parable for late Trump-era fascism. The third, simply titled Earth Wind Fire, takes inspiration from the mighty funk legends along with Miles Davis, Terence Blanchard and Ahmad Jamal.

The three numbers in Lost Works are untitled. Composition #1 is a big, lickety-split swing tune with bright, ebullient trumpet from Lawrence in tandem with alto saxophonist Caleb Curtis. Pianist Zaccai Curtis (no relation) hits hard and incisively alongside his bassist brother Luques Curtis and drummer Anwar Marshall, who caps it off with a colorfully tumbling solo.

Composition #2 is a gorgeously nocturnal Twin Peaks jazz ballad with lustrous horns, twistedly glimmering lounge piano and a rather furtive bass solo, echoing  Miles as much as Pharaoh Sanders. Lawrence reaches a conclusion by mashing up the drive of the opening segment with the unease of the second.

Part two of the love trilogy, Sugar Hill Stroll opens with a cheery trumpet-bass duet, then the rhythm section kick in and build a jubilant Louis Armstrong flair. The mini-suite winds up toward the end of the record with the slow samba tune Sunset in Santa Barbara, a welcome if considerably more balmy return to David Lynch soundtrack ambience with enigmatic piano glitter and some tasty, spare muted work from the bandleader.

Earth Wind Fire slowly comes together on the ground as a polythythmic, tribal tableau, piano pulling the band from their separate corners, Marshall’s clave a frequent but not omnipresent grounding influence. From there they breeze into a deliciously shimmery, syncopated soul vamp, sparsely shiny piano anchoring similarly spacious solos from the horns. The suite achieves total combustion in the final movement with forceful, McCoy Tyner-tinged piano (RIP, damn) and tightly clustering horns over Marshall’s artfully shapeshifting drive. Lawrence closes the album with the EWF classic That’s the Way of the World – yow! Jazz versions of 70s radio pop hits are usually a recipe for disaster, but the band get plenty of help courtesy of guest Brian Charette’s churchy organ, working a low-key arrangement that sticks pretty close to the original.

Intense, Purist Party Jazz and a Lincoln Center Gig with Zaccai and Luques Curtis

Completion of Proof, the 2011 debut album by Zaccai and Luques Curtis, was a fierce, latin-tinged protest jazz record whose centerpiece was a chilling, caustically Mingus-esque triptych titled The Manifest Destiny Suite. Their long-awaited follow-up, Algorithm – streaming at Bandcamp – has much of the same veteran lineup. But it’s somewhat of a thematic shift, a similarly vivid, often intense but otherwise much more optimistic shout-out to Art Blakey and his associates who’ve mentored them over the years. It’s first-class, golden-age style party music. They’re playing the release show on Jan 15 at 7:30 PM at Dizzy’s Club. Cover is steep – $35 – but it’s a chance to hear two of the most sought-after sidemen around doing their own material, alongside the allstar vets who helped them get to where they are now..

They open the album with the Jackie McLean salute Three Points and a Sphere, drummer Ralph Peterson’s loose-limbed drive paired against Zaccai Curtis’ jaunty piano, their longtime bandmates Donald Harrison on alto sax and Brian Lynch on trumpet following with long solos, choosing their spots. Onstage, it would be a high-voltage set-ender that gives everybody a chance to cut loose.

The album’s mathematically-inspired theme continues with Phi, a salute to the circular ratio that kicks off with a shamanistic drum solo, then goes vamping with a cheery, funky latin soul groove and a good-natured piano-bass conversation between the bandleaders. Chief gives the guy it’s dedicated to, their longtime employer, a platform for sailing, spiraling sax solos over a similar but punchier rhythmic drive. ”

Parametric has an edgily familiar, moodily modal salsa-influenced simmer that Lynch latches onto with a fanged intensity echoed more distantly by the piano. Torus has to be the most gorgeous jazz waltz ever dedicated to a donut, while The Professor has a similarly dark, gospel-tinged majesty, Lynch taking a saturnine climb to redemption.

The album’s final trio of numbers were written as a sequel to The Manifest Destiny Suite. Lynch, Peterson and then Harrison wail up a storm in the somewhat uneasily tumbling Undefined (that’s what you get when you divide anything by zero). The allusively regal, briskly swinging horn showcase Staircase of Mount Meru sends a shout to the Indian mathematician Pingala, who discovered the construction commonly known as Pascal’s Triangle. They wind up the album with Sensei, a carnaval-esque vehicle for incorrible extrovert Peterson to do some flexing, This is one of those albums where afterward you might say to yourself, “Damn, good thing I didn’t just write this off as a bunch of road warriors recycling old ideas.”

Mighty Majestic Brilliance from Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band

Big band jazz is not the most lucrative style of music: after paying twenty guys for the gig, you’re lucky if there’s anything left over for you. But some of the most exciting composers in jazz persist in writing and recording large-ensemble pieces. Darcy James Argue is probably the most cutting-edge. Of all the purist, oldschool, blues-based big bands playing original material, pianist Orrin Evans‘ Captain Black Big Band is without a doubt the most powerful and entertaining. For those who don’t know his music, Evans is a vigorously cerebral tunesmith and one of this era’s most distinctive pianists: think of a young Kenny Barron with more stylistically diverse influences and you’re on the right track. Evans’ initial recording with this band was a roller-coaster ride through lively and often explosive, majestically blues-infused tunes. His new one, Mother’s Touch, is arguably even better, and has a broader emotional scope. Evans and this mighty crew play the album release show at Smoke jazz club uptown (Broadway between 105th and 106th) with sets at 7 and 9 PM on April 28. Get there early if you’re going (a seat a the bar is your best bet) because this will probably sell out.

The album’s slow, torchy first track, In My Soul, is amazing. It’s the most lavishly orchestrated oldschool soul song without words you’ll ever hear. Evans’ gentle, gospel-infused piano, Marcus Strickland’s searching tenor sax solo, and an artfully arranged conversation between groups of horns lead up to a joyously brass-fueled peak. By contrast, Explain It to Me is an enigmatic, pinpoint, Monk-ish latin groove, guest drummer Ralph Peterson doing a good impersonation of a salsa rhythm section on his big kit.

The album’s title track is a relatively brief two-parter: it’s basically an intro, guest pianist Zaccai Curtis spiraling around majestically on the first and then leapfrogging on the second over a dense wall of sound and Anwar Marshall’s tumbling drums.The best song on the album – and maybe the best single song that’s come over the transom here this year – is Dita. Throughout its long, impressionistic crescendos, elegant solo voices peeking in through the Gil Evans-like lustre and gracefully acrobatic outro, the pianist has a great time alluding to both the rhythm and the blues.

Tickle, written by Donald Edwards, works variations on a series of big, whirling riffs echoed by Stacy Dillard’s clustering tenor solo and then some wryly energetic call-and-response among the orchestra. An Eric Revis song, Maestra builds off a trickily rhythmic, circular riff underpinning a casually funky groove and a tersely jaunty Fabio Morgera trumpet solo. The band has a blast with the droll, bubbly bursts of Wayne Shorter’s Water Babies, a long trumpet solo giving voice to the most boisterous of the toddlers in the pool. The album ends with the epic Prayer for Columbine, an unexpectedly optimistic, cinematic theme grounded in unease – it has the feel of a longscale Quincy Jones soundtrack piece from the mid 60s. Pensive trombone over a similarly brooding vamp eventually gives way to a massive funk groove with a long, vividly animated conversation between aggravated baritone sax and a cooler-headed counterpart on tenor. It’s not always clear just who is soloing, but the whole thing is a sweeping, passionate performance from a big crew which also includes trumpeters Tanya Darby, Duane Eubanks, Tatum Greenblatt and Brian Kilpatrick; saxophonists Mark Allen, Doug Dehays, Stacy Dillard, Tim Green and Victor North, trombonists Dave Gibson, Conrad Herwig, Stafford Hunter, Andy Hunter and Brent White, with Luques Curtis on bass.