In the famous 1980 cult film classic The Blues Brothers, Curtis (Cab Calloway) suggests that Jake and Elwood Blues "slide on down to the Triple Rock, and check out the Rev. Cleophus." When Jake resists the suggestion, Curtis snaps "Jake, you get wise...you get to church!" Jake and Elwood heed wise Curtis's advice and are saved. Today's generation of jazz musicians seem to have heeded Curtis' advice as well. Several heavily church influenced projects have hit the jazz shelves over the last few years, with examples of the best being Wynton Marsalis' extended composition In This House, On This Morning, Charlie Haden & Hank Jones' excellent album of spirituals Steal Away, and now Cyrus Chestnut's Blessed Quietness.
For Blessed Quietness (subtitled A Collection Of Hymns, Spirituals and Carols ), Chestnut returns to the Baptist roots of his upbringing, where (he states in the liner notes) he was first exposed to music. In tackling this set of religious classics, Chestnut also chooses to return to solo performing, opting to try for a more individually expressive experience with the music.
Does it work? Hallelujah! While Chestnut's arrangements are at times unconventional, his deep understanding of, and respect for, these songs allows him to bring some of his immense musical training to the table without losing the essence of these wonderful songs. His choice to do a variety of hymns and carols, as well as a few spirituals, keeps the disc from getting too formal, and yet keeps the religious theme constant. His talent as a pianist also adds to the mix, allowing him to flow easily from quick runs to majestic chords. Overall, this disc has the feel of a Sunday afternoon's family entertainment in a traditional Southern parlor, with a family member performing old favorites with just a touch of jazz.
Highlights for the disc will vary from listener to listener depending upon personal preference and religious conservatism. "Amazing Grace" gets a very unique treatment, as does "Holy, Holy, Holy." "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" is gorgeously done, as are "Walk With Me Jesus" and "Jesus Loves Me." "We Three Kings" begins dark and slow before picking up, only to fade back.. Chestnut's version would make an excellent soundtrack to the Magi's journey across the night time desert. "Silent Night" begins with a light, twinkling feel providing a simplicity and pureness that match the song's subject.
Blessed Quietness is a deeply personal album for Cyrus Chestnut, and therefore, a deeply refreshing one for the jazz listener. Much like Jones and Haden with Steal Away, Chestnut has taken a group of songs that already mean a great deal to the listener, and attempts to share what they mean to him. Putting his faith, heritage, and musical talent on full display, Chestnut proves himself the type of musician who is unafraid to strive for direct communication. And with his unique arrangements of several of the pieces, he proves himself a man unafraid to push towards the new.
With success that has grown steadily over the last four years, Cyrus Chestnut has been able to get to a position where he could record a disc such as this, and have it exposed to a large audience. The fact that he took such an opportunity to record this record would make Curtis and the Rev. Cleophus proud.
Highly recommended - 4 Stars (Out of 5) ****
Over My Head; Jesus Loves Me; We Three Kings; Walk With Me Jesus; Silent Night; Amazing Grace; The Old Rugged Cross; Holy, Holy, Holy; The First Noel; Blessed Quietness; What A Friend We Have In Jesus; Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child (55:20)=20
Cyrus Chestnut - Piano.