Album Remarks & Appraisals:
From his emergence in the mid-Eighties to the present, pianist Cyrus Chestnut has declared himself a committed stylist completely infatuated with his instrument and the art he's sworn allegiance to, jazz. Chestnut has consistently shown himself an improviser of rare ingenuity and grace, yet what most distinguishes him from other gifted pianists of our era may be the sheer pleasure that radiates from all that he plays. While the characteristic cheer that Chestnut displays on "Natural Essence" can be attributed to his undiminished vigor and attentiveness, the presence of his notable cohorts also contributes to the leader's focus. With the dynamic Lenny White on drums and the redoubtable Buster Williams on bass Cyrus & company breathe new life and vitality into that most venerable of jazz ensemble formats, the piano trio.
Personnel: Cyrus Chestnut (piano); Lenny White (drums).
Audio Mixer: Katsuhiko Naito.
Liner Note Author: Steve Futterman.
Recording information: Yamaha Hall, New York, NY (11/17/2015).
Photographer: Alan Nahigian.
As with his previous effort, 2015's A Million Colors in Your Mind, pianist Cyrus Chestnut's second Highnote release, 2016's Natural Essence, finds him communing with two veteran artists for a deeply heartfelt and swinging session. Whereas last time Chestnut was joined by bassist David Williams and drummer Victor Lewis, here he has conscripted the talents of bassist Buster Williams and drummer Lenny White. Both Williams and White are industry icons with decades of playing experience and credits with such luminaries as Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Art Blakey, Woody Shaw, Tony Williams, McCoy Tyner, and many others. While many of Chestnut's recordings lean toward the strait-laced and straight-ahead approach to modern jazz, he is by no means a reserved musical traditionalist. On the contrary, while he is adept at swinging acoustic jazz, one of his most formative experiences was as a member of vocalist Betty Carter's trio. A genre-bending maverick, Carter purportedly encouraged Chestnut to try new things and approach even the most well-known standard in an unexpected way. That expectation defying aesthetic fits nicely into Chestnut's work here with Williams and White, who come from a generation of jazz musicians who grew up playing electrified fusion, funk, and highly progressive post-bop influenced by the avant-garde. While the music here is more stripped down to the jazz essentials, they nonetheless tackle even the most well-known standard, like "It Could Happen to You," with a creative ebullience and in-the-moment spontaneity that grab your attention throughout. Also thrilling are the trio's takes on several original compositions, including Chestnut's sophisticated, minor-tinged "Faith Amongst the Unknown," White's languid, urbane ballad "Dedication," and Williams' soulful, roiling "Toku-Do." ~ Matt Collar
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