Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Big George, the new barber at 100% Barber Shop, tapes a sign on the wall behind his workstation that reads: Free Haircuts Tomorrow. I chuckled, and sit next to a customer reading Michael Rosenberg’s sports column in the Detroit Free Press. Dexter adjusts the blade on his clippers. Dane and Marcus play dominoes on the end table near the big framed window that offers a clear view of Plymouth Road. Cory the barber listens to his iPod sweeping up hair. I am twenty minutes or so early for my bi-weekly appointment. Dane says, KB. my barber went to Lee’s Beauty Supply. When Cory notices me, he props the broom and dustpan against his barber’s chair. Then he removes the white earphones, and asks if I’ve heard the new Cyrus Chestnut album “Journeys”. He gives me the cd case.
“I listened to it last night.” I return the cd case.
Cory shuts off the iPod, wraps the white earphone wire around it, and stuffs it in the breast pocket of his smock.
“It’s the best album Cyrus has put out in a while. Lately, his recordings have been hit or miss, Cory says.
“I’ve been a big fan of his music since hearing Linda Yohn of WEMU play ‘Revelation’ on her program Morning Jazz.”
“Cyrus made one great record after another, but when Atlantic Records closed their jazz division, he kind of regressed.
“He made a few great albums after the company downsized him. ‘Soul Food’ was one of his best,” Cory reminds me.
“I wore out two copies of that record. A lot of my favorite players were on that album James Carter, Christian McBride, Marcus Printup, and Gary Bartz made a cameo appearance.”
“To me, Cyrus’ best work is his trio recordings ‘Revelation’ and ‘Dark Before the Dawn’. ‘Journeys’ is in the same league.
“He’s at the stage now where he’s a storyteller. This album sounds very personal.
Cory mentions Cyrus composed all ten tunes.
“I don’t think he gets enough credit for his amazing compositions”.
“When he soloed on ‘Little Jon’, I thought he had three extra fingers per hand the way he ran those notes together.”
“Cyrus played in Betty Carter’s band. She encouraged her band-mates to write,” Cory notes.
He recounts an incident Cyrus had with Carter when the pianist joined her band. One night, the band performed Miles Davis’ arrangement of “If I Were a Bell”. Cyrus played the arrangement note for note. After the concert, Carter summoned Cyrus to her dressing room and lit into him, reminding him that she didn’t bring him on board to play standards the same way they were played 40 years ago.
“Be bop Betty was tough. She raised a lot of great musicians.”
“Cyrus is a democratic bandleader. Dezron and Neal had an equally stake in the album,” Cory says. “It’s rare to find a trio album where the sidemen aren’t subservient”.
“I don’t have a favorite track on this album. He carefully designed each track. So many albums are unfocused, and you really can’t get into a groove. I didn’t have that problem with ‘Journeys’. I never wanted to turn it off.”
“Cyrus is a craftsman,” Cory says.
Cory glances at his watch. He realizes it’s time to pick up his daughter, Be bop, from school. My barber, KB, walks into the shop carrying to bags filled with supplies. Cory slips off his smock. He puts on a denim jacket. He fishes his car keys from his pants pocket, and rushes out the shop.
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