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Cyrus Chestnut: Soul Food

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Cyrus Chestnut’s latest Atlantic release Soul Food provides a veritable smorgasbord of musical delicacies. Combining original and classic material, Chestnut and his band mates deliver a complete and balanced diet of delectable bites of sound performed at an epicurean level of artistry that would satisfy any jazz gourmet.

Joining Chestnut on Soul Food are bassist Christian McBride, Lewis Nash on drums, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, Marcus Printup on trumpet, saxophonists James Carter and Gary Bartz and Stefon Harris on marimba and vibes.

The CD opens with the title cut “Soul Food,” a wide open, gospel tinged hard bop type swinger reminiscent of the Art Blakey and Horace Silver combos of the 1950’s and 60’s. In addition to Chestnut’s tasteful playing, Marcus Printup and James Carter’s improvisational forays create meaningful musical moments.

“Brother With the Mint Green Vine,” the second cut, may best be typified as low simmering blue flame funk. There is a laid back coolness present here, but the groove laid down by the bass and Chestnut’s piano is pure heat. An angular head played by Chestnut and Stefon Harris on marimba seemingly floats above all the rhythmic action below. Also of note is great solo work by Harris on marimba, an instrument not frequently heard in jazz.

The third cut, “Cerebral Thoughts,” is certainly an apropos title. The mellow sound of the vibes and piano, and the laid-back rhythm section certainly conjures up a mood of introspection that permeates throughout this composition. Again, Chestnut contributes excellent solo lines capably backed up by a great solo by Harris, this time on vibraphone.

“Fantasia” the next tune features the bass of Christian McBride. McBride certainly demonstrates he has the chops and musical ideas placing him on the same lofty tier as other great jazz bassists. Chestnut follows with his own improvisational statements that exemplify a great feel for his instrument and a connection with his creative spirit.

The relatively simple and straightforward rendition of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” that follows, features Chestnut’s solo piano, and is a great sorbet for cleansing the musical palate. Chestnut’s playing brings to mind the playing of Thomas “Fats” Waller and Art Tatum and provides ample evidence that Chestnut is an artist with the ability to swing with sophisticated insouciance.

“Brother Hawky Hawk,” the sixth cut, takes the listener into the realm of spreading the good news with a musical flavor of hand clapping, knee slapping, upbeat, gospel inspired music. The trombone solo by Wycliffe Gordon is reminiscent of convert testifying at a revival meeting. Likewise tenor man James Carter follows with his own brand of musical praise. Chestnut’s piano solo brings to mind the funky jazz sound associated with Gene Harris, Horace Silver and Ramsey Lewis.

The up-tempo seventh cut on the CD “Minor Funk” begins with a tightly woven rhythmic patchwork of bass, piano and drums, that breaks into a hard driving swing with Chestnut’s solo choruses. The bass of Christian McBride and drummer Lewis Nash are also featured as soloists.

As another respite from the hard driving manner of the previous selection, Chestnut’s solo piano is featured on his rendition of “Coming Through the Rye.” Chestnut again demonstrates great sensitivity and touch at the keyboard that elicits a full and robust tone from his instrument.

“In The Underground” is an easy going Latin inspired piece with an introduction that brings to mind Horace Silver’s “Song for my Father.” Chestnut and vibraphonist Stefon Harris again demonstrate improvisational mastery and light-as-a-feather deft in their soloing.

The gospel inspired tune, “Wellllll!” follows, again showing off Chestnut’s funky-styled approach. A very tight horn and rhythm section capably punctuates Chestnut’s musical statements. Also of mention is the excellent solo feature of trumpeter Marcus Printup.

The CD closes with the very quiet tune, “Goodnight.” This brief (1’ 27”) tune featuring the tenor saxophone of James Carter serves a musical after dinner mint and an appropriate au revoir. Without a doubt, Cyrus Chestnut’s Soul Food is a musical feast for the soul that would be a most welcome addition to any jazz lover’s collection.


Title: Soul Food | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: WJ3 Records


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