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14

Smoke Sessions: Cyrus Chestnut, Orrin Evans and Eric Reed

C. Michael Bailey By

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Cyrus Chestnut
Midnight Melodies
Smoke Sessions
2014

Elegance and economy characterize Cyrus Chestnut's art. Chestnut's career was the one Kenny Kirkland could have had had Kirkland's fate been different. Chestnut (and Evans and Reed) represent the generation given way to with the passings of Mulgrew Miller and Cedar Walton. Chestnut is a keeper of the flame, a lyrical and expressive pianist who likes to use notes in sculpting songs. Midnight Melodies was recorded November 22 & 23, 2013 at New York City's Smoke Jazz Club as part of the club's "Smoke Sessions," an endeavor patterned after the brother NYC club, Smalls' "Smalls Live."

Chestnut leads a trio comprised of bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Victor Lewis through three originals (one by Chestnut and two by Lewis) and eight standards. Looming large on Chestnuts horizon was the late pianist John Hicks whose playing was comparable in it elegance and careful choice of themes. Chestnut introduces the recording with Hicks' "Two Heartbeats" and "Pocketful of Blues," ending the performance with the lengthy "Naima's Love Song" expertly chosen to follow a Bud Powell infused reading of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Chestnut plays with great brio and confidence, wasting no notes, while honoring the sonic palette of Coltrane.

For ballads, Chestnut chose Billy Strayhorn. "Chelsea Bridge" sports a lengthy solo piano introduction that probes the corners of Strayhorn's quiet sensibility when the trio gels at the 2-minute mark. It is an easy swing with Lewis' sensitive brushes laying out a plush center. Chestnut follows that with an eight-minute workout on Strayhorn's "UMMG (Upper Manhattan Medical Group)." The pianist closes the disc with Miles Davis' "The Theme" in a fitting tribute. Chestnut is all taste and class in this present performance—at the top of his game.

Orrin Evans
Liberation Blues
Smoke Sessions
2014

In contrast to Cyrus Chestnut's hyper-intuitive trio, pianist Orrin Evans brings a bright quintet to bear with trumpeter Sean Jones and tenor saxophonist JD Allen. A full half of the Smoke performance is dedicated to "The Liberation Blues Suite" to whom Evans dedicated to bassist Dwayne Burno who died of kidney disease December 28, 2013. The suite opens with two Burno compositions, "Devil Eyes" and "Juanita." The former is a brisk cooker featuring the whole band in a cooperative display of empathy. The latter is a ballad with a delicate head that proves more durable than it initially sounds. Evans composed two of the last three pieces for the suite, the angular "A Lil' D.A.B a Do Ya" and the closing, "Liberation Blues," which is evidence of the continuing evolution of the blues as a discreet art form.

Outside of the suite, Evans contributes a couple of originals, the freely swinging "Simply Green" a useful vehicle for Jones' precision trumpet playing. Paul Motian's "Mumbo Jumbo" provides a craggy, dissonant head and the wide open harmonic spaces in which the horns dance a drunken waltz. Evans reprises his performance of "How High the Moon" which he and Jones shared on Jones' recent Mack Avenue release Im-pro-vise: Never Heard Before (2014). Evans, like Chestnut, includes a closing vamp on Miles Davis' "The Theme" before the encore of "The Night has a Thousand Eyes" sung by Joanna Pascale. Study and solid.

Eric Reed
Groovewise
Smoke Sessions
2014

Eric Reed has fully established himself in the forefront of jazz pianists. Additionally, he has proven to be a gifted composer whose vision is as acute as it is compassionate. Reed's Smoke Sessions recital was performed on September 6 and 7, 2013. He led a saxophone-fronted (Seamus Blake) quartet secured by bassist Ben Williams and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. Reed composed eight of the ten selections performed, covering Clifford Jordan's "Powerful Paul Robeson" and Christian McBride's "The Shade of the Cedar Tree."

Reed's playing has matured into a deeply wrought hew, orchestral and expansive. His playing is of a unique vintage with notes of McCoy Tyner and Gene Harris. But Reed's voice is bigger than any influence. His playing is tactile, like that played behind Blake on "Ornate," where he incorporates Latin shades with bold Cecil Taylor-like statements and accents. "Bopward" is a circuitous and air theme for Blake to blow soprano in an Eastern vein. The tour de force is the title cut with its introductory vamp on "Lean on Me." Reed summons all of the church at his disposal, in the spirit of Gene Harris, the master of such. Reed turns it all upside down at the hinge between the introduction and song. Simply put, he rocks and so does his band.

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