Cyrus Chestnut Trio
This past two months, New York's Village Vanguard has been featuring a series of the finest working trios in jazz today. Ranging from Tommy Flanagan's almost telepathic work with Kenny Washington, Brad Mheldou's great group with Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy, Kenny Barron's Monklike musings with Buster Williams and Ben Riley, all the way to Cecil Taylor's musical explorations, this classic NYC club has proven that the art of the piano trio is alive and well.
When acts play the Vanguard, they usually are there to play at this esteemed venue and to push their latest product. While there is certainly nothing wrong with selling jazz records in a shrinking market, it is refreshing when a trio is just there to play. This was the case with Cyrus Chestnut and his fine trio. The Baltimore native who has completed stints with Betty Carter and Wynton Marsalis, has recently found a rather unique style and voice in terms of his playing and writing and was in fine form in displaying that to a very attentive audience. Starting off with a few tunes from his 1995 Atlantic release The Dark before the Dawn", Sentimentalia and Call me later, Cyrus and company were off and running, combining a post-bop feel with a bluesy "laid backness" that was at once accessible and challenging. While never losing his sense of humor, Cyrus dismissed the group and proceeded to play a few gospel tunes alone at the piano. The classically trained pianist is one of the very few players who can fuse trad-style playing with a New Orleans type of rhythmic sensibility without sounding trite or screamingly derivative. That being completed, the group came back on the bandstand and played a supple reading of "If I Should Lose You", featuring bassist Steve Kirby. Kirby is a rock-solid groove master who fits in perfectly with the percussive playing of his leader and the fine drumming of Garnett. To close out the set, a version of Caravan slowly crept out of a piano/drums intro that drew gasps of pleasure and anticipation from audience members throughout the club. Garnett played a very melodic hand drum motif which set the table for the musical feast that the trio served up, using Juan Tizol's classic tune as a perfect vehicle to send the crowd out into the New York night, happy, smiling and satisfied.