This is serious play at its most elegant and satisfying. Cyrus Chestnut takes on fare ranging from original compositions through the works of Mozart, Ravel, and Satie, along with a hymn (“Lord I Want to Be a Christian”), a classic from the Great American Songbook (“Darn That Dream”), and most audaciously, a scrap from the heavy metal slag heap (Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”), enriching it all with zest, good humor, and unflagging craftsmanship. Chestnut is that rare artist whose work is as welcoming, even reassuring, as it is bold.
The opener, “Golliwog’s Cakewalk,” sets the tone. Chestnut dances through myriad moods—pop-tinged gaiety (at one point he almost sounds ready to break into “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top”), lush romanticism, an elusive but palpable sense of melancholy—with percussive block chords, dashes of soul-jazz churchiness, and bop-tinged angularity, all of which he incorporates into a fully personalized voice.