Source: Dusted Magazine
Genre: Piano Trio
GAB's Rating: ★★★★☆
A decorated veteran of the Wynton Wars when a neo-conservative wing of the music seemed poised to usurp the popular jazz consciousness of the late-1980s, pianist Cyrus Chestnut came out the other side relatively unscathed with a style and directive clearly his own. It’s one steeped in the gospel church traditions of his native Baltimore, but also enlivened by an open ear aimed at a multitude of other influences. Valuable tenures with vocalists Jon Hendricks and especially Betty Carter further expanded his playbook with the added assets of a steady supply of encomia and awards. Several decades distant from his original ascendancy, Chestnut’s keyboard skills are still sharp and discerning as Natural Essence, his second album under the HighNote mantle, makes abundantly clear.
Chestnut’s history as a prodigy with a slew of jazz-based scholarships and later first call appointments in the Lincoln Center Jazz and Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestras and Dizzy Gillespie Big Band weigh lightly on this session of like-minded players. Bassist Buster Williams and drummer Lenny White are both veterans in their own right, having graced hundreds of sessions between them. Chestnut is their junior by twenty-one and thirteen years respectively, but he assumes the mantle of leader without the least bit of trepidation. The nine tune program is a predictable assemblage of standards joined by with one each from the sidemen and two from Chestnut.
The fusion side of White’s chops honed during his time as drummer for Weather Report come into prominence on the opening groove-friendly rendering of Joe Henderson’s “Mamacita”. His string of boisterous breaks thread through a fat stream of funk that’s further buttressed by Williams round, rubberized sound. “It Could Happen to You” finds Chestnut folding in some Japanese inflections into his phrasing of the melody and a lush, resounding solo from Williams works as another highpoint. “I Cover the Waterfront” and “My Romance” don’t reveal much in the way of fresh material, but the trio tackles both with an equal opportunity attitude toward their viability as jumping off points for efficacious interplay.
The first of the Chestnut pieces, “Faith Amongst the Unknown” works off a reverberating bass ostinato, swirling cymbal splashes and malleted accents as foundation for the composer’s lissome right hand leads. “I Remember” also relies heavily on the strong agreement between Williams and White with Chestnut free to explore the gilded theme at length without the need to worry about shoring up any lapses in support. Once again his right hand works minor melodic wonders. White’s “Dedication” steers the band back into ballad territory, germinating from a delicate repeating piano figure into a quiet bloom of three-way confluence while Williams’ “Toku-Do” gives its composer ample room to flex and flaunt his strings. A brisk incursion into Gigi Gryce’s “Minority” carries the set to a satisfying conclusion. Derek Taylor
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