Solo Piano: Cyrus Chestnut, John Hicks & Ray Bryant
Playing solo piano requires, among other things, a distinctive style and enough musical ideas to hold a listener's interest over a period of time. Three new releases feature players amply endowed with both.
Cyrus Chestnut has honed his artistry while playing with the likes of Terence Blanchard, Betty Carter, Jon Hendricks, Wynton Marsalis and James Moody. With Spirit he explores his roots in the church, choosing songs associated with the church or with deep spiritual feeling. Traditional material such as "Wade In The Water" is treated with an emphasis on call and response as well as imaginative harmonies. But Chestnut also includes Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," with a water effect in the treble and a reinvented melody, and Bill Withers' "Lean On Me" with a bass line as in the original. Notable is Ellington's "Come Sunday" which is approached with the solemnity it deserves but then sparkles with a stride-like tempo in the middle, and a lovely and sensitive reading of Horace Silver's "Peace."
The late John Hicks is represented by I Remember You, recorded live in 2006 in New Hope, PA. His ability to flow between chords and single notes is well displayed hereespecially on Monk's "Reflections" and "I Remember You," an 11-minute version that is compelling from one imaginative chorus to the next. Hicks also does a beautiful job of playing the lyric on "A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square" and "Everytime We Say Goodbye." Another highlight is a spirited treatment of Monk's "Nutty" which closes the CD on a positive note. Listening to Hicks leaves you with the feeling of having sat in some jazz club until three in the morning and leaving with a head full of beautiful and imaginative music.
Ray Bryant's newest offering In The Back Room was recorded live at two different concerts sponsored by the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University. The first concert in 2004 featured a mix of Fats Waller evergreens, some originals and James P. Johnson's "If I Could Be With You." Two songs (Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" and Porter's "Easy To Love") were recorded in October of 2008. Bryant's playing could be a time capsule of jazz piano. His style can evoke aural images of Waller, Teddy Wilson, Erroll Garner and Art Tatum; combine all this with gospel, blues, boogie-woogie and bebop and you have created Bryant's own unique style. Two of Bryant's originals, "Lullaby" and "Little Girl" (written for his wife), are lovely and gentle while "The Impossible Rag" refers to his outrageously fast tempo. In addition to the various styles to which Bryant can refer is his outstanding ability to say musically everything that needs to be said in two chorusesa skill that not many pianists can command.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Oh How I Love Jesus; Lift Every Voice and Sing; Blessed Assurance; Wade In The Water; Lean On Me; I Surrender All; Gospel Improv #1; Old Time Religion; Bridge Over Troubled Water; Come Sunday; All By All; All Creatures Of Our God And King; Peace; The Lord's Prayer.
Personnel: Cyrus Chestnut: piano.
I Remember You
Tracks: Reflections; I Remember You; A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square; All Of You; Solar; I Want To Talk About You; Everytime We Say Goodbye; Upper Manhattan Group; Nutty.
Personnel: John Hicks: piano.
In The Back Room
Tracks: Lullaby; Keepin' Out Of Mischief Now; Black And Blue; The Impossible Rag; Jitterbug Waltz; In The Back Room; Little Girl; Ain't Misbehavin'; If I Could Be With You; Honeysuckle Rose; Easy To Love; St. Louis Blues.
Personnel: Ray Bryant: piano.