Cyrus Chestnut has always brought a palpable sense of joy to his music-making. Since gaining notoriety with the young lions of the '80s, his gospel-rooted approach has earned him a reputation as one of the most reliably versatile pianists on the mainstream scene.
Genuine Chestnut is a mixed bag, though. While there's plenty of fine playing here from the 42-year-old leader and his trio, along with guests Steve Kroon (percussion) and Russell Malone (guitar), the music only occasionally transcends the merely well-played. Only a few of Chestnut's originalsthe bebop workout "Mason Dixon Line, the ballad/bossa nova hybrid "Ellen's Song," and the insistent groove of "Baby Girl's Strut make a lasting impression.
The cover choices, too, leave something to be desired. Chestnut has often successfully merged jazz with pop and R&B influences, but not even his sparkling piano or Malone's inventive guitar licks can make memorable jazz out of Bread's sappy '70s soft-rock hit "If or Roberta Flack's tedious "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. More enjoyable are a trio of inspirational numbers that close the album, especially a moving solo piano take on the traditional hymn "Lord I Give Myself to You.
Track Listing: 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; Steve Kroon: percussion; Russell Malone: guitar.