Cyrus Chestnut, piano – Spirit – JLP (Jazz Legacy Productions) 0901002, 65:38 ****:
Cyrus Chestnut has always had an affinity for gospel music. His father was a church organist and his mother the choir director. Even on his straight jazz releases you will find the influence of the church in his piano expressions. His 1996 Atlantic release, Blessed Quietness, has always been a favorite of mine. It was a collection of hymns and spirituals. It joined Charlie Haden and Hank Jones’ Steal Away as late night listening pleasures.
Chestnut is back with Spirit, on the Jazz Legacy Production label. It takes up where Blessed Quietness left off, but also goes in new directions as it includes Bill Wither’s Lean on Me and Paul Simon’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, along with traditional gospel spirituals. Spirit also strays from straight gospel interpretations, every now and then. You’ll find a bit of stride on Duke Ellington’s elegiac, Come Sunday, and a bit of bebop voicings on other tracks.
Chestnut keeps most of Spirit in a reflective mood as found in his interpretation on Oh, How I Love Jesus and Lift Every Voice and Sing. Blessed Assurance receives an upbeat jazz feel that cries out for a bass and drum accompaniment. It’s more a swinging blues cross with a classical underpinning. Wade in the Water is done with bass chords crossed with a bit of bebop.
It’s nice to have a visit with Lean on Me as Cyrus plays the melody while improvising a counterpoint. It’s done well. Gospel Improv #1 lets Cyrus loose to express a blend of the church and a chamber hall. Old Time Religion brings to mind Hank Jones on Steal Away with its lighter blues based feel. Bridge Over Troubled Water has always cried out to me for a gospel treatment and Cyrus is the man for the job. Its mix of reflection and joy is a gem.
Special praise should be given to producer and recording engineer, John Lee, as Spirit has great acoustics, with the piano sounding as if you are getting a private recital. Cyrus’ Spirit will lift yours whether you are a church attendee or not. It’s simply gorgeous solo piano with soul.
TrackList: Oh, How I Love Jesus, Lift Every Voice and Sing, Blessed Assurance, Wade in the Water, Lean on Me, I Surrender All, Gospel Improv #1, Old Time Religion, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Come Sunday, All by All, All Creatures of Our God and King, Peace, The Lord’s Prayer
– Jeff Krow