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Straight No Chaser - A Jazz Show

Welcome to Straight No Chaser, the Award-winning Podcast hosted by Jeffrey Siegel

Jun 1, 2024

Zaccai Curtis continues to be one of the most engaging piano players of the past decade. Whether as a band leader (alone or with his brother Luques) or backing the likes of the late Ralph Peterson, Lakecia Benjamin and Cindy Blackman Santana, his strong sense of rhythm and deep knowledge of Latin and Afro-Cuban sounds and Bebop chords make him a cornerstone of those artist’s sounds.

Cubop Lives! is an album that stands as the culmination of his work as a composer/arranger, performer, and educator steeped in the Afro-Cuban Jazz tradition. Backed by Willie Martinez (drums, voice, timbales), Camilo Molina (percussion), Reinaldo De Jesus (percussion, drums), and brother Luques Curtis (bass), he has delivered an album that creates a fusion of the Bebop and Latin jazz traditions. For example, one of the most notable ways he does this is through the “Noro Morales Suite,” a collection of four pieces by the great Puerto Rican pianist, Noro Morales, one of Zaccai’s musical heroes. And then with his take on Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” he reinterprets a piano staple and turns it into something fresh and new.

Since his days learning at the feet of masters like Jackie McLean in Hartford, Connecticut, Zaccai has absorbed innumerous influences. With the new album, he gets to turn that sound loose, on his original tunes and tasty covers. There is nary a week moment on the album, and I suspect it will find its way to many year-end “Best of” lists.

Zaccai records on the Truth Revolution Recording Collective, a group he, Luques and likeminded musicians run to release and distribute their work.  We discuss his label, and how he came to be so versed in Latin Jazz in Podcast 976. Musical selections include “Maple Leaf Rag” and the Curits-penned blues “Black Rice.”