Cyrus Chestnut: Cyrus Plays Elvis

Even in a world that contains jazz versions of everything from Charlie Brown to Mozart, and even with a project so quixotic that it cries out for suspension of critical disbelief, it is difficult to concede that this album was necessary. It is not only that the musical starting points are so inherently insubstantial; they are also encrusted with unfortunate associations. There have been, after all, 50 years of television parodies of the low comedy of “Hound Dog,” the petulant vacuities of “Don’t Be Cruel,” the pubescent onanism of “Love Me Tender.”

Cyrus Chestnut applies his standard improvisational methodology to these ditties, and the further he ventures from them the better. His playing is always clever and accomplished, even if its decorations and tags are given to cliché. “Heartbreak Hotel” is a departure, atypically free with the song’s form, perhaps searching for underlying meaning. It embeds the melody in bombastic dark block chords and ominous cymbal slashes from drummer Neal Smith. It sounds like the soundtrack to a B horror movie.

Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.