Pianist Cyrus Chestnut is a virtuoso player with deep roots in both spiritual gospel music and harmonically sophisticated jazz. That said, he's also a classically trained artist with a wide-ranging and eclectic taste in music.
He brings all of these influences to bear on his nuanced and enveloping 2018 trio date, Kaleidoscope. Joining him are bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Chris Beck, who offer empathetic support throughout. Here, Chestnut has chosen a handful of his favorite classical compositions, including tracks by Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, and Maurice Ravel, which he reworks in his own inimitable jazz style, alongside other standards and his own originals.
What's particularly compelling about his choices is just how well the classical songs fit into the jazz trio concept. The Satie selections in particular lend themselves to a jazz approach. Chestnut's languid reading of "Gymnopedie No. 1" has the feel of a hazy summer afternoon, and brings to mind Vince Guaraldi's Peanuts soundtracks. He also turns the composer's "Son Binocle" into a jauntily urbane bossa nova. Elsewhere, he transforms Debussy's "Jimbo's Lullaby" into a bluesy, far-eyed rumination, anchored by a soulful bass solo intro from Wheeler.
Similarly engaging is the trio's dramatic, modal jazz take on Ravel's "Entre Cloches," in which Chestnut's spiraling solo swells into a sustained din of reverberating bass notes before returning to the main theme. Conversely, his own songs, like the meditative "Father Time" and the lyrical "Prayer for Claudine," evince a classical feel, displaying his knack for finely attenuated melodies and richly textured harmonics. He splits the difference on his swaggering version of Deep Purple's classic rock anthem "Smoke on the Water," diving into the iconic main theme with Rachmaninov-esque dynamism and then pulling back into a mutative, Eastern-influenced improvisation.
Matt Collar ~ AllMusicGuide
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