“Syzygy” is an astronomical term that describes an alignment of three celestial bodies. What that has to do with the Curtis Brothers Quartet’s new album isn’t clear at all; it would make sense for a Curtis Brothers Trio. Maybe pianist Zaccai Curtis, bassist Luques Curtis and their bandmates, drummer Richie Barshay and percussionist Reinaldo De Jesus, just liked the sound of the word—which would be fine, because everyone is going to like the sound of this record.
It’s a fresh sound. Zaccai mostly plays Fender Rhodes, and the 12 tunes on Syzygy are tinged to varying degrees with Latin sounds. Sometimes, as with Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue” and Horace Silver’s “Quicksilver,” it’s forceful Latin jazz, with De Jesus playing the congas with such might they feel like the lead instrument. Bud Powell’s “Hallucinations” retains its bebop origins but gets a heavy dose of conga, and “Hi-Heel Sneakers,” a 1964 uptempo blues hit for Tommy Tucker, is turned into a piece of funky Latin jazz that comes off like a cousin of “Watermelon Man.” Elsewhere the Latin effect is dialed back. The quartet’s take of “What’s Going On” is as bluesy and soulful as Marvin Gaye’s, with a shuffling rhythm to boot. Wayne Shorter’s “Yes or No” is modal postbop with congas—not to mention a cracking drum solo. “Betcha by Golly Wow,” the R&B ballad made famous by the Stylistics, is a showcase for Zaccai, who unearths plenty of harmonic beauty, with the percussion taking a backseat. And their version of Cole Porter’s “All of You” sounds more like ’70s AM radio, with a ringing Rhodes so pretty it’ll make you want to cry.