JazzTimes (p.53) - "[O]n the arc that goes from hymns to prayer, the cresting peak reveals his jazz side in both bluesy gospel fervor and striding, swinging, two-handed improvisations."
Audio Mixer: Paul Wickliffe.
Recording information: Alleycat Productions, South Orange, NJ (07/24/2008-07/27/2008).
Cyrus Chestnut's straight-ahead mainstream jazz has always been shaded by the church, gospel, and spiritual music of his heritage. So it is no surprise that he would turn to this aspect of his inner being for inspiration on this program of solo piano inventions and interpretations. But it is not all hymns and pew-based songs turned into instrumentals, although that aspect is clearly represented here. Chestnut mixes in pop tunes and jazz standards, while his arrangements of well-known religious themes are cleverly modified or updated with his personal stamp of modernity and voicings, delightfully rendered with every phrase. This mix of traditional and contemporary styles is heard from the outset in the modal 5/4 touch placed on "Oh, How I Love Jesus," the straight-ahead and a bit off minor "Lift Every Voice & Sing," or the bouncy, confident "Blessed Assurance." A typical choice, "Wade in the Water" is energized, the Bill Withers hit "Lean on Me" takes into account its soul-jazz base while adding a mid-tempo reverence, "I Surrender All" is cast in a light trot, "Gospel Improv #1" is less made up and more a thematic blues, and "Old Time Religion" is a nice waltz but arranged quite differently. The rest of the program is much more serene, laid-back, and solemn. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" is a twinkling and cascading cover, Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday" an appropriately stock choice, as is Horace Silver's "Peace" as the pace of the remainder of the CD completely slows down. This recording would be perfect for holiday family dinners, and as it stands musically, it's clearly a labor of love for the always impressive pianist, still an underrated player in the general scheme of things. ~ Michael G. Nastos