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Fred Hersch & Cyrus Chestnut: Two Pianists on a Roll

Jim Santella By

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Two contemporary pianists, who both continue to keep the jazz flame alive and well, have just released albums. Each approaches his performance with a uniquely personal statement, and the two pianists differ in how they go about communicating with their audience.

Fred Hersch

In Amsterdam: Live at the Bimhuis

Palmetto

2006

Recorded May 31, 2003 in Amsterdam at the end of a ten-day solo European tour, Fred Hersch's concert performance provides a suitable example of just how interesting his solo piano performances can be. Every nuance has been captured, making the recording stand out for the artist's wide range of dynamic control and for his delicate touch. They're familiar songs. Even his three originals come bearing gifts of recognition through their familiar refrains. Hersch likes to begin with a whisper, build to a lion's roar, and settle in comfortably somewhere along the line.

With "Evidence, he begins with notes that drip as if from a leaking faucet, then turns up the pressure gradually. From the instrument's upper register, he takes a deep plunge into the piano's bottom and then moves into some serious cycling that churns endlessly through Monk's world. Not only is Hersch's treatment of this familiar standard unique, but he carries the audience away with his adventurous rapport.

The longest interpretation on the concert program is Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks, which Hersch explores with a view of the world from on high. As if sitting on a throne and commanding his subjects with unquestioned authority, the pianist paints a majestic picture that stands up strong and powerful. Like a peacock strutting his stuff and displaying his beautiful colors, Hersch's interpretation swells with the pride of one who's in love with his music.

Cyrus Chestnut

Genuine Chestnut

Telarc Jazz

2006

Swinging with his trio and guests, Cyrus Chestnut interprets a program of originals, traditional fare, and popular songs. Each demonstrates the power of a pianist who plays with deep feeling every time out. The recording comes with a clarion sheen that allows one to soak up the passion comfortably. Through his music, the pianist makes you want to kick off your shoes, sit back, stretch out, and stay around a lot longer than the 55:04 that he and his musical partners ply their wares.

Chestnut's "Mason Dixon Line drives with an up-tempo rhythm, steeped in the Southern tradition, that features fast fits of keyboard clusters laid end on end. He takes his audience for a quick stroll that recalls the days when America was younger and jazz was not yet half-grown. Elsewhere, he explores influences from the Caribbean, from church, and from the blues. His interpretation of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face comes filled with the love of one who's been there and knows how to say it right.

As he reaches out with the Fats Domino classic, "I'm Walkin', you can feel the heartbeats ticking off in time with the music. This one, and the other two selections for which Russell Malone swings his enchanting guitar around the ensemble, stand apart as the album's high points. Recommended for its deep emotional flavor, Genuine Chestnut sums up the pianist's love for music that comes from the heart.


Tracks and Personnel

In Amsterdam: Live at the Bimhuis

Tracks: A Lark; The Nearness of You; Evidence; At the Close of the Day; O Grande Amor; The Peacocks; Don't Blame Me; Valentine.

Personnel: Fred Hersch: piano.

Genuine Chestnut

Tracks: The Brown Soldier; El Numero Tres; If; Ellen's Song; Mason Dixon Line; Baby Girl's Strut; The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face; Eyes on the Prize; Through the Valley; I'm Walkin'; Lord, I Give Myself to You.

Personnel: Cyrus Chestnut: piano; Michael Hawkins: bass; Neal Smith: drums; Russell Malone: guitar; Steven Kroon: percussion.


Visit Fred Hersch and Cyrus Chestnut on the web.

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