Cyrus Chestnut: Soul Brother Cool

On the surface, Soul Brother Cool appears to draw direct lines to two other releases: the recent The Willie Jones III Sextet Plays the Max Roach Songbook (also reviewed in this issue) and drum great Roach’s own 1966 album Drums Unlimited, which, like many of pianist Cyrus Chestnut’s early albums, was issued by Atlantic Records. Jones and bassist Dezron Douglas provide the rhythm section on both Jones’ release and Chestnut’s (each album appears on Jones’ WJ3 label), while the cover art of Soul Brother Cool is a ringer for the Roach set.

But that’s about as far as the comparisons go. Soul Brother Cool doesn’t even have much in common with Chestnut’s previous (and only other) quartet recording, an eponymous 2010 set. With trumpeter Freddie Hendrix replacing soprano saxophonist Stacy Dillard, the new collection, featuring 10 Chestnut originals, feels like a welcome departure. This is one tasty little band.

For one thing, Hendrix is as much the star here as Chestnut. His solos proliferate, alternately brash and serene, always commanding and fluid. He presents a marked contrast to Chestnut’s more studied and intricate gospel- and blues-rooted breaks. They feed well off each other, and Jones and Douglas consistently provide the required pocket. In “Piscean Thought,” Hendrix takes the first half, Chestnut the next quarter, then Hendrix returns to finish what he started; it’s not an atypical strategy on the album, as solos on the more tranquil “Dawn of the Sunset” and other tracks are similarly allocated. But Hendrix is so good here it’s hard to imagine a listener having a problem with his dominance.

Chestnut is a remarkable pianist and composer though, and while he’s not always in the spotlight on his own record, his creative presence is always felt.