On stage and off, family was front and center on Saturday, June 17 at the Community Music School of Springfield, as the curtain came down on Season 5 of Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares. We got to meet Curtis family members: pianist Zaccai and bassist Luques led their working quartet; older brother Damien, who sat in quite ably on piano was in the house, as were parents Ted and Abby, Luques’ wife and young daughter, some extended relatives and lots of friends.
The love and familiarity gave the evening a celebratory feel, and despite the marble walls and imposing scale of Robyn Newhouse Hall, a warm vibe permeated the space. The concert marked the recent release of the Curtis brother’s latest recording, Syzygy, on their collectively run label: Truth Revolution Records.
The 80-minute concert featured a number of titles from the recording, and 75 audience members were treated to an evening of Latin jazz of the highest order. Featuring Richie Barshay on drum kit and Reinaldo de Jesus on congas, the Quartet was polished and professional.
Although only in their mid-thirties, the four have decades of experience on the bandstand. Collectively, they have been in the employ of Herbie Hancock, Eddie Palmieri, Lauryn Hill, Donald Harrison, Chick Corea, Bill O’Connell and the Klezmatics. Zaccai, who was an engaging master of ceremonies, told us that he and his brother already have 20 years of experience of playing with Barshay. In 2005, I hired their larger ensemble Insight, to open for Ray Barretto at UMass Amherst.
Originally, Jazz Shares was supposed to present the Ralph Peterson Trio featuring the Curtis brothers, but the great drummer was recovering from recent surgery. Zaccai gave a health update and a beautiful tribute to his mentor. Joe Henderson’s composition, Inner Urge, featured on the Trio’s release, Triangular III, served as the concert’s encore.
At one point Zaccai broke down the effective marriage of African-American swing and Afro-Cuban rhythm by asking de Jesus to lay down a typical Abakuá rhythm in 6/8, then having Barshay swing in 4/4 on his ride cymbal, then Luques joined in, floating between both worlds. The diasporic coming together made perfect sense, resulting in compelling music.
The concert included two soul pop standards, Thom Bell’s Betcha By Golly Wow and Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Bud Powell’s bop classic Hallucinations and the Zaccai Curtis original Syzygy, all featured on the new record. Another highlight was their up-tempo rendition of Charlie Palmieri’s Start the World I Want to Get On. The piece is from Palmieri’s landmark release A Giant Step, which served as a critical signpost in Zaccai’s development. The driving son montuno got a handful of audience members out of their seats and moving.
An astronomical term, syzygy is the alignment of three celestial bodies, such as the earth, moon and sun. On Saturday, the music gods were aligned as these young talents brought us together in community to give thanks and revel in musical fellowship.
Gratitude abounds for our family of 90 shareholders and 18 business sponsors who made Season 5 of Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares such a success. We are now 50 concerts into our little experiment in collective concert production. We are excited about Season 6 and, with young veterans like Barshay, de Jesus and the Curtis brothers, the future of our music.