Cyrus Chestnut, “Gloria’s Step” from A Million Colors in Your Mind (2015)

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Some legendary moments in song must be approached with caution. They have achieved, through musical brilliance or historical happenstance or sheer longevity, a kind of unapproachable grace that simply can’t be replicated. Scott Lafaro’s “Gloria’s Step,” for me, represents all of those things, and something more.

As performed on the Bill Evans Trio’s diaphanous, utterly ageless Sunday at the Village Vanguard, it has been with me in an unbroken stretch for decades. I’ve carried it with me since the very sunny Saturday that it arrived by mail order from a sadly defunct store called Orbit Records. I rushed home, put it on, and was so moved that I fell into a cross-legged position on the broken sidewalk out front, underneath that long-gone sheltering oak, and simply listened and listened and listened as the album — as “Gloria’s Step,” which I played over and over — poured out of every window of my house.

It’s a story I’ve told almost as many times as I’ve listened to “Gloria’s Step,” it seems. And one that I simply couldn’t escape as Cyrus Chestnut made a bold pass at it from his just-released A Million Colors in Your Mind. I knew, coming in, Chestnut — whose style runs more to gospel-soaked hard bop — was risking much. I knew, too, bassist David Williams would have roomy shoes to fill.

And I knew that day, that store, that sidewalk and that oak, would all come rushing back. They did, of course. But then, they didn’t. Cyrus Chestnut and a trio that also includes drummer Victor Lewis certainly don’t supersede the definitive take by Bill Evans, Scott Lafaro and Paul Motian. Yet, I found myself enjoying the new corners Chestnut and Co. explored inside a very old favorite.

Williams is boxing with a ghost, but he doesn’t come off as someone wildly swinging at smoke on Cyrus Chestnut’s debut as a leader for HighNote Records. Instead, he dutifully plays the sideman role on “Gloria’s Step,” girding Chestnut’s reliably soulful solo without trying to do too much. Lewis’ feather-light touch likewise offers Cyrus Chestnut plenty of space to move around, and he does so with a determined, history-spanning focus. The old Village Vanguard never heard those kind of thrilling, Bud Powell-ish embellishments, to be sure.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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