There are several different roads that an artist may travel in order to create a unique Latin Jazz voice. Some musicians follow the established formula, repeating the success of genre “legends.” While these artists may present a different slant, they basically follow their hero’s path to musical artistry. Other artists shape their sound around a more unique approach, delving into influential musicians that sat outside the genre’s popular success stories. This route involves a deeper study and often results in a more challenging musical experience. Still, the artist develops a voice that follows a leader rather than makes the way into new territory. A smaller group of musicians look into several challenging musical avenues, and combine these influences into an original direction. This involves more than just study and recreating an approach; it requires the difficult task of finding connections between concepts while staying true to tradition. The Curtis brothers and their band Insight take this road less traveled on A Genesis, bringing together a variety of influences into a modern Latin Jazz sound.
Latin Structures With Modern Jazz Approaches
Some tracks contain traditional Latin structures, but develop a unique character through the inclusion of modern jazz approaches. Pianist Zaccai Curtis plays a series of assertive chords to establish the Cha Cha Cha “Necessity,” as the winds display a wide dynamic range on the melody. Saxophonist Jimmy Greene begins his solo with understated phrases, until the rhythm section pushes him into a series of intensive runs and high register screams. After a quick return to the melody, Luques Curtis introduces a bass line that serves as the foundation for a strong solo from conguero Reinaldo De Jesus. The band creates an open spiritual feel over a rumba guaguanco on “Hilton’s Rumba,” their tribute to the late Latin Jazz pianist Hilton Ruiz. After a spacious melody, Zaccai furiously improvises through the minor blues, employing a variety of sequences to build tension. Greene immediately jumps into a series of quick runs, until saxophonist Kris Allen presents dissonant notes and tense rhythms. Luques explores the rhythmic possibilities within the rhythmic structure, shaping his melodies around percussive ideas. After revisiting the melody, Zaccai storms into an up tempo montuno, paving the way for a powerful mambo and solo from De Jesus. A strong bass line opens “The Panamanian Murga,” which is soon doubled by the winds. Zaccai combines rhythmic tipico phrasing with modern melodic choices, while Luques pushes the rhythmic texture in polyrhythmic directions as the brothers trade solo ideas. Saxophonist Zach Lucas complements the light dynamic with a carefully developed solo, giving way to a mambo based upon contemporary melodic ideas. These songs maintain their strong ties to Latin Jazz history, yet the complex harmonies and aggressive improvisational approaches reflect a thorough study of modern jazz.
Moving Outside The Norm
Several compositions experiment with ideas outside the norms of the Latin Jazz tradition. Greene and Lucas present a gentle introductory melody that explodes into a rhythmic vamp on “A Story in Three.” As the band moves into trumpet player Joel Gonzalez’s exploratory solo, the rhythm section settles into a 9 beat groove that explores both son and funk. Soon the band breaks into a funky beat that serves as the basis for an intriguing moña, broken by Zaccai’s frenetic montuno and a double time rhythm section feel. Greene boldly works through this intensive texture, ending the song on a strong note. Luques and Zaccai explore a more conversational approach on the duet “Sudan and Darfur.” While Zaccai plays a contemplative melody, Luques alternates between rhythmic figures and spontaneous runs. Zaccai establishes a piano ostinato for Luques’s improvisation on scalar ideas and rhythmic power. The two musicians disappear to a whisper as they reintroduce the melody, relishing in the space and freedom of this smaller setting. The odd meter swing of “The Truth Shall Set You Free” serves as the foundation for a sly but powerful melody. Zaccai playfully moves rhythms through the odd time, relying both on his keen sense of swing and vast rhythmic vocabulary. Greene takes his time building his solo from a spacious conversation into a spiritual burn. These pieces reflect the group’s exploration of different musical approaches outside Latin Jazz, and their ability to bring these worlds together.
Unique Personality With A Link To Tradition
Other songs alter the Latin structures just enough to create a unique personality, but keep them rooted in tradition. Zaccai and Luques create a vamp while the drummers play a unique version of Afro-Cuban 6/8 on “The Making.” Zaccai glides through this feel with a strong melodic sensibility, until the drummers disappear into an open space. The group returns with a double time 6/8, setting the stage for Luques’ polyrhythmic improvisation. The band soon intensifies the rhythm section approach beneath Greene and Lucas, maintaining a strong drive to the end of the song. Zaccai’s keyboard opens “In The Spirit of JR” with a mellow tone, moving into a unique twist on a bolero rhythm. The electronic keyboard sound provides a beautiful texture behind Luques’ solo, which transitions into a traditional piano solo. Greene delivers an intoxicating soprano sax solo that unsettles the relaxing feel with cutting lines. A complex interplay of rhythm section attacks and melodic writing opens “Ulterior Motive.” Drummer Richie Barshay breaks into an aggressive funk while Zaccai conjures a Herbie Hancock influence, until the band returns to a Latin feel for the solo’s completion. Lucas furiously improvises through the up-tempo feel, drawing an interesting interplay out of the drummers. Each of these tracks move the band in a distinct musical direction, while building its structure upon a Latin Jazz foundation.
A Journey Towards The Future
Insight takes a challenging path throughout A Genesis, and the distinctly modern Latin Jazz approach sets them apart from their contemporaries. Their intensively interactive improvisations and advanced melodic concepts reflect an influence from Miles Davis’ 1960’s quartet and beyond. The compositional structures are complete and the arrangements intricately formatted, but the performance concept demonstrates an emphasis on freedom and acute personal expression. A fiercely authentic use of Afro-Cuban rhythms displays the band’s strong roots in the genre and a full study of the music’s history. The band bravely alters some rhythmic styles through the use of odd time signatures, yet they always prioritize stylistic integrity. This allows them to experiment over a foundation that demands total respect for the genre. By taking a challenging and original road towards a musical statement, Insight has created a personalized performance style that pushes Latin Jazz on a journey towards the future.
Insight has been nominated for a Latin Jazz Best of 2007 Award in the Next Generation category! Vote Today!