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Cyrus Chestnut: There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit (HighNote)

Mike Joyce reviews new album from pianist Cyrus Chestnut with a quartet

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Cyrus Chestnut album "There's a Sweet Sweet Song"
Cover of “There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit” by Cyrus Chestnut

When it comes time to record, Cyrus Chestnut has never been inclined to stay in his lane. The widely acclaimed jazz pianist, who once devoted an entire album to Elvis Presley’s legacy, has always had a healthy disregard for genre borders and biases. So it’s not surprising to find him charting his own curious course on There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit, with the help of three likeminded collaborators: bassist Buster Williams, drummer Lenny White and vibraphonist Steve Nelson.

Naturally, Nelson, who appears on three of the album’s 10 tracks, plays a crucial role when the band salutes  Bobby Hutcherson by performing two compositions penned by the late vibraphonist, “The Littlest One of All” and “Little B’s Poem.” Both the former, with its insinuating pulse and melodic shimmer, and the latter, with its spiraling charms, consistently inspire Nelson and his closely attuned session-mates. “Little B’s Poem” gives way to poetry of another sort: Williams’ tender ballad “Christina,” a showcase here for Chestnut’s spacious, light-fingered lyricism. Of course, any album that also celebrates the music of Chopin, Miles Davis and the Stylistics is going to present Chestnut with myriad opportunities to display his talents in shifting lights and moods. Suffice it to say that “Rhythm-A-Ning” delightfully underscores his deep appreciation of Thelonious Monk’s singular legacy, while “Easy Living” proves a splendid and soulful vehicle for Nelson. The album’s title track is saved for last. One of two solo-piano performances here, it caps the session with a quiet, slowly unfurling “Amen!”

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