1. Smitty's Joint 2. Lover 3. Eyes of An Angel 4. Little Jon 5. New Light 6. Journeys 7. The Flowers On The Terrace 8. Yus Blues 9. In The Still Hours 10. Goliath
Cyrus Chestnut - Piano Dezron Douglas - Bass Neal Smith -
John Lee Executive Producer: Lisa Broderick
CURRENTLY OUT OF STOCK
Chestnut's Sophomore CD for the
Label and Return to Piano Trio Format Features Dezron Douglas
and Neal Smith.
When a young musician makes a
sensational debut, it's a moment that's thrilling and
yet also familiar; similar fireworks flash with the
arrival of each successive prodigy. But when that
musician achieves true insight, through talent
informed by experience, and lifts his work into a
higher realm of achievement, that is a real milestone,
rare and sublime.
Cyrus Chestnut crossed that line years ago. But with
the release of his latest album, Journeys, it's not
arguable at all: He affirms his position as an artist
among musicians, thanks to his mastery of one of the
most challenging formats in contemporary music.
The piano trio
is hardly a new concept in jazz. Certainly Chestnut
has established himself as a giant in that format,
through albums stretching back to his 1990 debut Nut
and in countless appearances at clubs, concert halls
and festivals throughout the world. Even so, Journeys,
his sophomore release for the Jazz Legacy Productions
label, marks a watershed moment in his ongoing growth
as a pianist, composer and bandleader.
"This is a
trio record, as opposed to a piano trio record," he
points out. "On many piano trio records, the bassist
and drummer are in the background, mainly in the role
of accompaniment. They may get a solo here or there,
but it's pretty much the piano in the forefront.
Journeys is more interactive. If you listen carefully,
it's about three gentlemen paying close attention to
each other. Each of us is listening to the others,
reacting and working together for what I believe is
the unique sound of this particular unit."
The lineup on
Journeys is equipped fully for that challenge.
Chestnut has played frequently with both bassist
Dezron Douglas and drummer Neal Smith, who have also
worked together on other projects. They came to the
Journeys sessions with specific knowledge of how their
combination would work and in peak condition to
transform each track into a showpiece of empathetic
improvisation within the structure of the tune.
On this date,
then, Chestnut knew that his role as "leader" carries
an almost contradictory meaning. It's a lesson he
learned from the mentors who helped him mobilize the
knowledge he picked up at the Berklee School into a
skill set that was relevant to the way the best
artists interacted in performance. None drove that
lesson home as clearly and passionately as Betty
Carter, particularly on one gig that Chestnut
remembers vividly playing with her even now.
playing 'If I Were a Bell' at Kimball's East in
Emeryville, California," he says. "I was just playing
the Miles Davis arrangement, note for note.
Afterwards, she called me into her dressing room and
said, 'I did not bring you here to play something I
heard 40 years ago. I don't need to hear it again.
I've been there. I know it better than you. You need
to create something different.' I carry that lesson
deep within me, to always find something new, a
different way of playing something. I dig consistency,
but I'm never satisfied with playing 'as usual.'
"If I did," he
concludes, with a laugh, "Betty Carter would come back
and get me!"
The late and
legendary singer can rest easy, as Journeys unfolds
into a dance of beautifully crafted material and
understated yet often electrifying invention. This is
perhaps clearest on "Lover," the sole track not
written by Chestnut; because its structure and melody
are so familiar, it's easy to appreciate how inspired
Douglas' line is, from its slipping in and out of
double time to the path it threads through the
descending chords of each verse. Meanwhile, Smith
allows the bass and piano to play off of each other by
holding down a steamy, simmering beat - and then
doubling the momentum as Chestnut begins stretching
out, with a perfectly placed hi-hat pulse.
The bar stays
high on the original material too. Many of Chestnut's
works feature sophisticated chord changes and
harmonies. But whether amplifying on the opening motif
in the breezy "Flowers on the Terrace" or teasing the
gentle tensions which play between major and minor on
the waltz-time "Eyes of an Angel," they all stem from
a fundamental melodic concept, which illuminates a
path for improvisation while also keeping the results
open to appreciation at every level of listening.
"I like to
construct melodies that tell stories, based on what
I've seen, what I feel and what I hear," Chestnut
explains. "If I can connect to what I'm playing, then
I'll be able to share it. That's why you may think
that some of what I do seems simple, but when you get
into it, it's not as simple as you think."
example, the title cut, an emotionally complex tune,
yet so clear in its communication that it's easy not
to notice the time signature. "It's in 5/4," Chestnut
says. "Now, sometimes you hear 5/4 pieces that seem
like they're supposed to sound like they're in 5. But
my effort here was simply to create a journey. It
wasn't like, 'Okay, I need something in an odd meter.'
'Journeys' just happens to be in 5/4, but that's not
so important; this is how the music came to me, and
the meter is just a gateway toward how to understand
The idea of receiving rather than
composing this music is critical to Journeys. More
broadly, it reflects how Chestnut's creative and
personal sides are drawing closer, even blending
inseparably. For example, it's no accident that the
minor feel in the opening section of "New Light"
blossoms unexpectedly into a major tonality as the
solos begin on the verses. "'New Light' - that's it,"
he observes. "We don't live in darkness. Even if
there's a rainstorm and the clouds make the sky black,
the sun still finds a way to peek through. It's not
just about major, minor, augmented and diminished
tonalities; it's about how they relate to you. How do
It's also a
sign of Chestnut's deeper understanding of his role as
a leader. "A good leader always listens," he insists.
"Sometimes you have to put your foot on the gas and
steer, but sometimes you have to back up and let
everybody be who they are. Time and experience have
got me to the point where I need to let the musicians
be who they are. Ultimately the best results are when
you challenge the cast around you not to just play the
notes on the paper but to use their hearts, minds and
spirits to contribute. On Journeys, I wanted Neal to
be Neal. I wanted Dezron to be Dezron. And I tried to
Chestnut's journey, to borrow his
title, remains unfinished. It has taken him from
childhood performances on piano at church in Baltimore
through formative work with Jon Hendricks, Terence
Blanchard, Donald Harrison, Wynton Marsalis and the
aforementioned Betty Carter through a catalog of his
own albums and collaborations. These range from a
gospel collaboration with the spectacular operatic
virtuoso Kathleen Battle to celebrations of the
Peanuts comic strip and Elvis Presley to his debut on
film in Robert Altman's Kansas City.
Journeys appellation doesn't stand on the foundations
of what he has accomplished. "This record is about
life ... my life, not necessarily as it was but what
has yet to be," he says. "Every piece is a story based
on what I've felt or heard. There are introspective
stories, stories of fun, stories of brief sadness and
always a story of triumph."
reflection, he adds, "And it's not just my journey.
It's anybody's journey through life, looking forward
to your next destination, wherever that is. The
journey of life is happy and sad, it's frivolous, it's
serious ... It's everything. I hope that people will
think of it as something they can listen to and find
solace or inspiration, whatever they need."