Album review

Cyrus Chestnut – ‘My Father’s Hands’

Cyrus Chestnut – My Father’s Hands

(HighNote HCD 7339. Album review by Peter Vacher)

Now something of a veteran, the Berklee-educated pianist Cyrus Chestnut, who will be 60 this coming January, had racked up some 195 recording sessions by the time Tom Lord compiled version 17.0 of his discography. And there have been more recordings to add since then. In other words, he’s immensely experienced, perpetually busy and used to being in fast, post-bop company, and as it happens is a front-runner when it comes to making ‘name’ albums like this one.

Yet for all that, his stylistic signature remains hard to define: after all, it was Chris Parker, of this parish, who described Chestnut’s performances as ‘determinedly eclectic’. The Penguin Guide adds weight to that view by defining him as ‘a fine piano entertainer’. So, something for any and every audience, you might say. All of which is emphasised here, first, with Chestnut’s sprightly ‘Nippon Soul Connection’, his delight in re-working its boppish theme making me think of Ray Bryant, the ideas wide-ranging, sometimes funky yet always firmly resolved, when lo, that impression was furthered with his incorporation of Bryant’s ‘Cubano Chant’, another well-constructed piece which prompts Chestnut and company to dig in to vigorous effect. Chestnut’s ‘Thinking About You’ which precedes the Bryant classic, is described in the booklet note as ‘a jaunty swinger’ and so it is, even if Peter Washington’s bass solo rather dulls its impact.

Still, for all that, the essence of the album and its implied evocation of Chestnut senior, a church deacon, is all about both men’s absorption in Baltimore’s gospel music environment and the piano support its choirs needed from them. Thus, the serene reading of the hymn ‘I Must Tell Jesus’, the harmonies quite exquisite, this preceded by Chestnut’s playful meander through ‘Baubles, Bangles And Beads’ and a rather lovely version of John Lennon’s ‘Yesterday’. The album closes with a suitably elegiac piece ’Epilogue’ which Chestnut says ‘represents the last minute of my father’s life. I was there. The last part of the piece represents his final moments’. So there you have it, a cathartic tribute to his late parent, clearly someone who was a powerful influence and mentor, allied to this pianist’s clever way with familiar compositions (notably ‘There Will Never Be Another You’ and ‘But Beautiful’) and penchant for rich and varied invention. Worth consideration, for sure.

Cyrus Chestnut (p); Peter Washington (b); Lewis Nash (d). Recorded New York, 14 December 2021.

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