Curtis Brothers Quartet – ‘Syzygy’

The Curtis Brothers Quartet’s new album, Syzygy is dropping in mid-December where it will be (very) unfortunately overlooked as critics and listeners turn our collective attention to ‘best of 2016’ lists. Don’t make that mistake.

The quartet (brothers Luques and Zaccai Curtis on bass and keys, respectively, plus Richie Barshay on drums and Reinaldo De Jesus on percussion) hits the ground running with a Rhodes- and percussion-driven taken on the Mongo Santamaria classic “Afro Blue”. This is well-covered territory and the quartet more than ably adds to the list of excellent covers of this tune. The whole thing is great, but the percussion breakdown toward the end of the tune is particularly special. This tune sets the vibe for the album, which also includes the quartet’s versions of classic tunes from Bud Powell (“Hallucinations”), Dizzie Gillespie (“Bebop”), Wayne Shorter (“Yes or No”), Cole Porter (“All of You”), Horace Silver (“Quicksilver”), and Marvin Gaye (“What’s Going On”), among others, plus the Zaccai Curtis-penned title track.

The album is full of highlights including “Yes or No”, with Luques Curtis’ bass locked in with the drums and percussion to provide a tremendous groove for Zaccai’s swinging piano, the percussive “Start the World I Want to Get On” with Zaccai on the Rhodes, the quartet’s take on “All of You”, starting with a solo Rhodes introduction full of sustained chords leading to a nicely spacy take on the tune with a melodic bass solo from Luques, and “Hi-Heel Sneakers”, with Luques’ bassline driving the tune before Zaccai’s Rhodes enters with the melody. While the spotlight is rarely on the drums and percussion here, both Barshay and De Jesus are essential to the feel on this album. Syzygy is a great listen, swinging throughout with a focus on the groove and an obvious rapport among the four musicians here. This is deep and soulful stuff – not genre-defying or statement-making in any way, just great music from great musicians making it sound much easier than it is.