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Cyrus Chestnut: A Million Colors in Your Mind

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There’s nothing quite like the sound of pianist Cyrus Chestnut hammering his way through a five chord in a climactic turnaround, as if to underscore his abiding affection for blues and gospel traditions. It evokes images of a smiling slugger rounding third and heading home, having just deposited a ball somewhere in the upper deck.

You’ll find examples of that on A Million Colors in Your Mind, but as its title suggests, his latest recording is a many-hued thing. Several years ago, when Chestnut devoted an album to hits associated with Elvis Presley, he proved that he has both the imagination and harmonic wherewithal to redeem pop songs that once became too ubiquitous for their own good. He pulls off something similar here when he shrewdly reconfigures and reharmonizes the Lionel Richie ballad “Hello.”

But as far as romantic entries are concerned, nothing rivals his soulful eight-minute rendition of Johnny Mandel’s “A Time for Love,” a performance exquisitely shaded by bassist David Williams and drummer Victor Lewis. Not surprisingly, fans of Lewis’ work with the late pianist John Hicks will find much to enjoy here, including the insinuating, Hicks-penned theme “Yemenja.” Another highlight, albeit it a much brighter one, comes when Chestnut revives a Broadway showstopper-“Brotherhood of Man,” from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying-in his own playful, showstopping fashion, complete with a soft-shoe tempo interlude and Lewis’ evocative brushwork. Not to be missed, too, is a pulsating, nearly hypnotic rendering of Billy Strayhorn’s signature musing “Day Dream.” Dreamy stuff, indeed.

Originally Published