Cyrus Chestnut was born into the church; his father was a church organist and his mother directed the choir. On this artist's fine solo piano CD, Spirit, he returns to his roots with a selection of gospel songs augmented by a couple of inspirational popular songs from the 1970s. They are played with church-like fervor and a jazz sensibility, and make for a thoroughly enjoyable, uplifting experience.
The first track, "Oh How I Love Jesus," captures the believer's steadfast dedication, while "Lift Every Voice and Sing" projects a pure, worshipful love. With "Blessed Assurance," Chestnut brings forth the rapture of the saved before transcending to a funky finish. The cut given most thorough jazz treatment, "Wade in the Water," finds Chestnut pounding the keys in post bop glee. Another real highlight is "I Surrender All"; here he lays a marching rhythm on top of some lowdown blues proceeding to a triumphal climax.
The two seventies hits, Bill Withers' "Lean on Me" and Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," both have a built-in spiritual quality, which Chestnut sensitively underlines. He has some fun, though, baring his improvisational chops on the fervid "Gospel Improv #1," utilizing a florid, Art Tatum-like technique. Also, Duke Ellington Center Big Band's "Come Sunday" is absolutely stunning. The long, stately introduction gives way to a stride chorus the Duke wrote, with some real come-to-church music here.
The whole Spirit CD, if not a religious experience, can certainly be transcendent.
Oh, How I Love Jesus; Lift Every Voice and Sing; Blessed Assurance; Wade in the Water; Lean on Me; I Surrender All; Gospel Improv #1; Old Time Religion; Bridge Over Troubled Water; Come Sunday; All by All; All Creatures of Our God and King; Peace; The Lord's Prayer.