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Cyrus Chestnut: Natural Essence

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Chordal jabs, light-fingered trills, cascading runs, robust turnarounds-no question: Pianist Cyrus Chestnut is in delightfully animated form when this trio session opens with the Joe Henderson boogaloo “Mamacita.” And Chestnut is not alone in reviving the slippery funk groove with a mixture of spirit, wit and soul, alongside two veteran collaborators, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Lenny White.

In the liner notes, Chestnut recalls that the entire album was made in a scant four hours, “the fastest of my recording career.” Yet the trio’s interpretations of three classic ballads leave another impression altogether. “It Could Happen to You” is rendered with leisurely aplomb by the trio. Even when the focus is on Chestnut’s teeming chromaticism, his touch is rhythmically assured, and Williams enhances the performance with a striking, mood-altering interlude.” I Cover the Waterfront” follows suit, boasting a frictionless brand of blues-tinted swing, while “My Romance” is hauntingly reprised-a now tender, now dramatic recital, as alluring as it is spacious.

Chestnut’s spiritual excursions are always welcome departures. His “Faith Amongst the Unknown,” a prime example, brackets a stirring crescendo with an insinuating melody and an undulating pulse. Williams and White also contribute noteworthy tunes. The bassist offers the playfully kinetic “Toku-do,” while the drummer provides the complementary ballad “Dedication,” which further illustrates the group’s lyrical finesse. As for the brash finale, sparked by Gigi Gryce’s “Minority,” it adds a couple of exclamation points-the trio performing at its muscular, exhilarating best.

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