Cyrus Chestnut Trio – A Million Colors in Your Mind – High Note

Cyrus Chestnut – A Million Colors in Your Mind – High Note HCD 7271, 56:43 [4/21/15] ****:

(Cyrus Chestnut – piano; David Williams – bass; Victor Lewis – drums)

Cyrus Chestnut may have nearly 20 CDs as a leader, but he is “old school” enough to want to honor and work with musicians that are older than him. On his new CD, his first for High Note Records, he has as his accompanying rhythm section, veterans David Williams on bass and the great Victor Lewis on drums. Earlier in his career, Cyrus came up with vocalist Betty Carter, so you know he was well-schooled.

For this CD, Cyrus chose to honor some of the best American Songbook writers such as Johnny Mandel, Frank Loesser, Burke and Van Heusen, Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn, and Hart and Rodgers. He has also included tracks from jazz musicians, bassist Scott La Faro,and John Hicks, who both left us way too soon (especially La Faro). Trio mate Victor Lewis wrote “From a Tip.” The one compromise to more contemporary work is the inclusion of Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello.”

Listening to Cyrus is always as pleasure as his playing is so soulful. Influenced by hard bop and gospel leanings, Chestnut is a master of making a tune swing. Opening with Loesser’s “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” it kicks up the energy level immediately, as Victor Lewis spurs on Cyrus with sparkling cymbal work. The theme is set before David Williams’ woody bass tone reverberates surrounding Lewis in the sound mix. Chestnut returns to close out the familiar melody. Next up is Scott La Faro’s lyrical ballad, “Gloria’s Step” which was recorded by the Bill Evans trio just ten days before Scott’s tragic death in a car accident. Cyrus’ reading of Ritchie’s hit song, “Hello” finds a new opening with bass and drum features before Ritchie’s melody is recognized.

Having been raised in church listening to call and response gospel singing, Cyrus is a master in utilizing this technique in his arrangements. “Brotherhood of Man” is a fine example as it opens with a musical conversation between the pianist and his trio before Cyrus explores some rollicking gospel piano chordings. David Williams has a righteous solo here as well. “Yemenja” is a waltz from pianist John Hicks, from whom Chestnut inherited the piano chair in taking over from Hicks in backing Betty Carter. Perhaps my favorite track from the CD is Chestnut’s arrangement of Johnny Mandel’s gorgeous “A Time for Love.”

Cyrus closes out the CD with two classic songbook tracks, “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” and “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was.”

No new ground is covered on this CD, but it provides some classy jazz piano trio interpretations by three veteran jazz stalwarts. Time well spent…

TrackList: I’ve Never Been in Love Before, Gloria’s Step, Hello, From a Tip, Day Dream, Brotherhood of Man, Yemenja, A Time for Love, Polka Dots and Moonbeams, I Didn’t Know What Time It Was

—Jeff Krow

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