WBGO Radar

Cyrus Chestnut: Midnight Melodies

Cyrus Chestnut Midnight Melodies

Pianist Cyrus Chestnut's first regular performances were at age 6 in the Mount Calvary Star Baptist Church in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. Moving to classical and then jazz studies, he would eventually play alongside notables including Branford Marsalis, Jimmy Heath, James Moody, Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie and Betty Carter. Chestnut's own recordings would focus on a wealth of original ideas, Charlie Brown, Elvis Presley, re-imagined pop tunes and a return to his gospel beginnings, with jazz sensibilities always present.

"Midnight Melodies" is Cyrus Chestnut's new recording, and his first ever captured live, at Smoke in New York City. A trio effort, with bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Victor Lewis in the mix, the eleven tracks move effortless through originals, jazz standards and a nod to pianist John Hicks, a strong guiding spirit when Cyrus first arrived in New York. With Victor and Curtis, Chestnut says, " was a great opportunity to record with these two mighty, mighty men, who are also a direct link to John Hicks."

The Hicks original "Two Heartbeats" opens the performance. A signed chart given to Cyrus when he and Hicks performed it in a duo setting, stayed close through time, and the threesome swings it in one of the three salutes to whom Chestnut calls " one of the true soldiers of the music."

"Pocket Full Of Blues" is another Hicks tune written in tribute to the soulful pianist Sonny Clark. Chestnut's single lines and sense of space make for lively interplay between the trio, locked in to the sense of swing that allows the tune to build.
Cyrus wrote "To Be Determined", as he says, from how Hicks would often respond..hmmm, to be determined, then laugh. Chestnut's own determination here makes it a grand exchange.

There's Milt Jackson's "Bags' Groove", with a bluesy intro to an easy swing, showing the comfort the trio feels that night.
Drummer Victor Lewis is a mean tune maker. Two of his show up on the date: "Hey, It's Me You're Talkin' To" (done before by piano master Kenny Barron) and "I Wanted To Say" (charted previously by tenor great Stan Getz). Here Chestnut, Lundy and Lewis make them sparkle.

- Gary Walker, WBGO music director

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