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Even if your ear doesn’t immediately clue you in, the Curtis Brothers — pianist Zaccai and bassist Luques — are explicit about their pedigree: “the spirit of the great Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers.” And that in-the-pocket hard bop hits you from opener “Three Points and a Sphere,” the anthemic unison theme with syncopated hard starts and stops, suffused with bluesy melodic content, even in Luques’ solo, pliant and lyrical while hewing to a deep bass heft and avoiding upper-register “guitaristic” flourishes.
The brothers come by the sound honestly, having studied at late Messenger Jackie McLean’s Artists Collective school in Hartford, Connecticut, and doing tours of duty with another former Messenger, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison. As on the brothers’ 2012 Completion of Proof, Harrison is joined by two other mentors and Blakey alums, trumpeter Brian Lynch and drummer Ralph Peterson.
Six of the nine originals here, all by Zaccai, draw their titles from mathematical terms, while three others pay tribute to the elders. Whatever the overarching concept, fleet, next-generation hard bop is the order of the day. That includes the brothers’ deep understanding of Afro-Cuban rhythms, as distilled into the New Orleans second-line undercurrent of the medium-tempo ballad “Phi” or the shifting flow of Luques’ bass patterns on “Parametric” — where Peterson’s all-over-the-kit cross-rhythms obviate the need for additional percussion, especially in an extended “shout” chorus section.
Despite the hard-driving propulsion, there’s a keen understanding of dynamics as well, whether on the easy 3/4 ballad-swing of “Torus,” with especially eloquent solos from the leaders, or the slow-pressure-build Lynch feature “The Professor.” As the audience on this live album (recorded at Old Lyme, Connecticut’s Side Door) responds to Lynch’s crackling solo, you’re reminded of another verity of hard bop: the impulse to engage. — Jon Garelick