Zaccai Curtis – Cubop Lives! (ENG review)

Truth Revolution Recording Collective – Street date May 10th 2024
World Jazz
Zaccai Curtis - Cubop Lives

Those of you who have a good sense of humor will instinctively understand the name of this album, summarized in its simplest form and at the same time being a perfect representation of what this Cuban bebop album is. Zaccai Curtis is a multifaceted pianist for whom every aspect of his work shines. As both performer, composer, educator, and producer, Curtis has earned respect in each domain by brilliantly showcasing his mastery of jazz and Afro-Cuban jazz lineages. As a composer, Curtis is a three-time winner of the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Competition, recipient of the Connecticut Tourism Commission Artist Fellowship, and the Chamber Music America “New Jazz Works” grant.

Once again here, everything seems to be a matter of passion, with intricate compositions, structurally complex both rhythmically and in terms of themes or arrangements, yet it’s a very accessible album that will please you as long as you love Cuban culture and jazz. “Cubop Lives! highlights the early forms of ‘fusion jazz’ and the combination of cultures that were socially, politically, and of course, musically intertwined.” Curtis’s love for the genres has led not only to meticulous curation of pieces – historical and original – but also to the intentional selection of the group itself. “It takes musicians who master their craft and understand the concepts and forms of complex jazz,” explains Curtis. “There are only a handful of people capable of succeeding in this style of music as they do. These arrangements were developed to showcase each individual’s unique voice.” The album’s personnel list includes a heavyweight cast in the world of Afro-Cuban jazz: Willie Martinez (drums, vocals, timbales), Camilo Molina (percussion), Reinaldo De Jesus (percussion, drums), and the conductor’s brother, Luques Curtis (double bass).

All of Zaccai Curtis’s qualities as a performer are truly evident in the third track of this album, “When I Fall In Love,” a delicate and gracefully interpreted piece, enough to satisfy all piano enthusiasts without exception. Curtis deliberately aligned the album to acknowledge and designate the music of personalities such as Machito and his Afro-Cubans, Dizzy Gillespie, Mario Bauzá, and Chano Pozo. The title’s implication then indicates that the influence of these pioneers permeates present-day music. As a whole, the expression Cubop Lives! is also an inherent reference to the influence of Charlie Parker by referencing the phrase “Bird Lives!”, and furthermore the influence of Jackie McLean, who composed the famous piece of the same title. McLean himself was one of Curtis’s main influences and mentors. With such complex meaning in the worlds of Bebop and Afro-Cuban music, it’s the perfect phrase to encapsulate Curtis’s project goals.

It’s a strange feeling for me as the listener, who listens to hundreds of hours of new music every week and has let this album play on repeat. Not that I’m a great specialist in Cuban music, but beautiful music in general; here, each track reveals its listening mysteries with each playthrough, which is a sign of an excellent vintage that immediately becomes “Indispensable”.

Thierry De Clemensat
USA correspondent – Paris-Move and ABS magazine
Editor in chief Bayou Blue Radio, Bayou Blue News

PARIS-MOVE, April 3rd 2024

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