At the start of Thursday night’s performance by the Cyrus Chestnut Trio, Chestnut let the audience know that standard rules of concert etiquette were being relaxed —the bandleader let everyone know that this was the kind of show where you could clap your hands, stomp your feet, and even get your dance on if the music left you so inclined.
“It’s all right by us!” he hollered.
He promised that no matter how you felt when you walked in, he and his friends on stage intended you to walk away feeling far better by the end of the show.
And then they proceeded to make that happen.
Chestnut brought more than his usual trio for his Sanctified Swing performance. Special guests Curtis Taylor, on trumpet, and James Carter, taking a soprano saxophone to its limits and beyond, were soon joined by vocalist Carla Cook as the evening progressed through jazz inspired takes on traditional church music.
Each artist shined in solo moments and meshed seamlessly as a group. Drummer Neal Smith, in particular, was a veritable whirlwind who could also, as needed, lift the softest sounds from the cymbals.
A musical prodigy from early childhood on, Chestnut began studying classical music at Peabody Institute by the age of nine. That lifelong devotion to music shines through when he performs. You could hang a sign off the side of his piano: “Man at Work.”
Yet for all the sweat pouring off him as he pounded and tickled the ivory, there was a transcendent look of joy on his face. He loves it, every second.
Chestnut is an artist with not only natural talent but rock-solid academic credentials as well. He went on to a degree in jazz composition and arranging from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he received the Eubie Blake Fellowship, Oscar Peterson Scholarship, Quincy Jones Scholarship, and The Basie Award.
He followed his schooling with sideman work for some of the top names in jazz music (including Donald Harrison, Terrence Blanchard, Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea, and Dizzy Gillespie) before branching out on his own.
He has since released numerous critically acclaimed albums and regularly tours with his trio, playing jazz festivals worldwide.
Sanctified Swing sewed all that background together like a coat of many colors, tossed it high in the air with a whoop of joy, and proceeded to have some serious fun with it.
From Curtis Taylor delivering a scorching trumpet solo to Carla Cook leading the audience in a call and response take on “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” and on and on to the final note, this was a rip-roaring show that, true to Chestnut’s promise, carried the head, heart, and clapping hands to a happier place.