BWW Reviews: Jazz Giant CYRUS CHESTNUT Sizzles at the Sheldon with His Interpretations of Elvis Songs
Jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut brought his considerable talents to the stage of the Sheldon Concert Hall for a show (April 10, 2010) that featured selections of music more commonly associated with Elvis Presley. And, while this might seem to be an unlikely combination, Chestnut demonstrated his traditional jazz roots by improvising his way through these familiar melodies in dynamic and adventurous fashion. Chestnut proved to be a force to be reckoned with as he attacked the keys for each number, bending and twisting the chord progressions to suit his fancy, and providing a scintillating performance for an enthralled and appreciative audience.
Flanked by drummer NeAl Smith and bassist Dezron Douglass, Chestnut immediately set the tone for the night with a blazing rendition of "Suspicious Minds", that, although nearly unrecognizable at first, transformed into a powerful piece of music under his guidance. A more laid back approach highlighted the rhythmic interplay of "Don't Be Cruel", which followed, and this version featured an extended solo break from Douglass. The stand-up bassist ran with the opportunity, taking the song further and further away from its roots, but never losing his bearings in the process.
The lights dimmed to blue onstage and Chestnut then launched into a plaintive and emotional rendering of "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You" that was brilliant in its reinvention, but retained its simple beauty. Though Chestnut's fingers can, at times, blaze across the keyboard, this song afforded him the opportunity for some expressive playing, and he wowed the audience with his expertise. A number called "Graceland" (which I suppose it meant to be more representative of Presley, since I can't find an instance of this title in his catalog) ended the first set and featured a tasty percussion solo by Smith.
Throughout the evening Chestnut took time to remind the audience that what they were watching was an original performance, underscoring the nature of what he was about to present, but also staying true to the spirit of jazz. A second set provided some interesting surprises, and continued along the same course, exploring each song choice in conventional and unconventional manner. At one point, Chestnut threw in a snatch of the Quincy Jones-penned theme from Sanford and Son, as well as a little snippet of the rollicking theme from Perry Mason, prompting smiles from his fellow band mates, and a hearty chuckle from this audience member.
Watching the Cyrus Chestnut Trio is an intense experience, as you're drawn into the music in the most unexpected ways. On this particular evening, the gospel and blues influence of Elvis Presley was filtered through their own unique musical sensibilities, resulting in an engaging and highly entertaining evening.