Purists who believe that every jazz release should break new ground might dismiss Cyrus Chestnut's latest, but in a jazz world dominated by Coltrane and Miles disciples, I find it very refreshing.
Pianist Cyrus Chestnut is influenced to some extent by Coltrane collaborator McCoy Tyner, but he also embraces stride, '50s-style bebop, gospel, and the blues. This self-titled release is actually the fifth from the talented 36-year-old pianist, and for my money it's his best yet.
There's an uncommon elegance to Chesnut's playing, probably because his style is rooted in older forms. Chestnut enlists some outstanding collaborators for this outing, and they seem to inspire him to new heights. He's joined by saxophonists Joe Lovano and James Carter, soul diva Anita Baker, bassist Ron Carter, and drummers Billy Higgins and Lewis Nash.
The songs are strongly melodic and encompass an impressive variety of styles. Arguably the best track is the Chestnut original "Any Way You Can," a wistful lament featuring Lovano's graceful sax, some tricky medium-tempo drum work by Higgins, and a subtly amazing solo by Chestnut. Carter blows up a storm on "Miss Thing," a saucy bopper that opens the CD. "Sharp" is a swinging bop-romp featuring a lively battle between Carter and Lovano. "Strolling In Central Park" is a melodic trio number, while "The Journey" is a funky excursion with some neat interplay between Carter and Chestnut.
The pianist delivers old-timey stride on "Nutman's Invention #2." "Elegant Flower" is a beautiful melody imbued with impressionistic touches, while "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" is an original spiritual tune played solo by the pianist. "Summertime" and "My Favorite Things" are gracefully interpreted by R&B singer Anita Baker. The former is given a decidedly contemporary treatment with Chestnut on Fender Rhodes.
Cyrus Chestnut's brand of jazz may not be cutting-edge, but it's tasteful and substantial, and few pianists play so many different styles so effectively.