Ruby Slippers Productions
It is to the point now that we can mark the beginning of December on our calendars and know that we’ll have a new release from pianist and composer Lisa Hilton. She returns with Coincidental Moment featuring her mainstay bass-drum tandem of Luques Curtis and Rudy Royston, along with trumpeter Igmar Thomas who appeared on 2022’s Paradise Cove which we covered on these pages. Note that the drummer for that album was Obed Calvaire and not Royston, an exception to her recent string of releases. As we pointed out, Hilton’s approach is to bring her compositions into the studio and start rolling the tape. They do not rehearse, take only three takes, and never overdub, so you are listening to ‘in the moment” jazz. It is also pertinent to reinforce the notion that this writer stated last time. Hilton sometimes draws criticism for her music being “too pretty,” or “standard piano jazz.” Surely hers is more accessible than some piano fare but one need only look at the resumes of her bandmates to appreciate the collective talent. And, if you like bluesy pianists, Hilton is all of that and more.
Curtis is a mainstay accompanist for Orrin Evans, plays with his brother, pianist Zaccai, is a member of Harold Lopez-Nussa’s quartet, and has appeared on several recordings from Eddie Palmieri, Sean Jones, and Chief Xian Atunde Adjuah (aka Christian Scott). Royston may well be the most in-demand drummer in jazz. He is essentially the “house” drummer for almost all the Posi-Tone releases for example, and plays with countless artists from Bill Frisell, the late Ron Miles, and even the avant-garde leader Dave Douglas, to mention just a handful. Thomas leads the Revive Big Band and has a very extensive resume, in short, he is a former student of trumpeters Nicholas Payton and Roy Hargrove, whose role varies from sideman and section leader to bandleader and musical director on international tours for artists like Esperanza Spalding and Kamasi Washington. So, don’t be fooled; these players respect Hilton both for her compositional approach but even more for her loose approach, allowing them to freely improvise and interact.
Hilton delivers nine originals and two covers for a program running just short of an hour. The album kicks off with the bouncy, angular “Anxiety Society,” evoking soul-jazz of the past with strong inventive passages from trumpeter Thomas. “Jagged Lil’ Blues” offers more swinging grooves and features the redoubtable Royston’s catchy bongo-like rhythms which he also later employs on “Blue Tropics,” where Curtis leads with his robust bass intro. The trio rendered tune moves through several tempo changes, executed with remarkable, spontaneous interplay seamlessly melding conventional blues riffs with Latin tinges. “Happily Go Luckily” continues the soul-jazz vibe, evoking such greats as Horace Silver and Sonny Clark. As we commented on Paradise Cove, Thomas is a natural for this blues-based material.
With the Miles Davis/Bill Evans’ “Blue in Green” the mood shifts into sublime balladry with Thomas playing a muted trumpet, Hilton playing fluidly and delicately, Curtis plucking deeply resonate single notes, and Royston at work with brushes and gentle cymbal flourishes. The other cover, “West Coast,” is for many, a more curious choice as it was written by singer/composer Lana Del Ray. Curtis begins with a bass intro and Royston issues zephyrs of cymbals with Hilton’s dominant left hand sending up dark chords to give the tune a melancholy hue that starkly contrasts with the buoyant earlier tracks.
The animated Latin-tinged full quartet sound reappears on “Enigmatic Adventure” filled with gorgeous glissandos from Hilton while the trio rendered “Multiple Perspectives” is arguably the most challenging track with its blend of jazz rhythms and classical interludes, deftly navigated by Curtis and Royston. Hilton’s melodic, fully rounded sound and gift for composing elegant ballads is on display in the trio rendered title track, which, like most of her material, still has an inherent bluesy component. She takes that feeling to an even deeper level in “Everyday Anthem” which brims with the energy of a roof-raising gospel number. Hilton closes solo in stately fashion, using the entire piano for the dreamy, exquisite “Uncommon Poetry.”
True to her mantra, Hilton’s compositions traverse several moods, tempos, and harmonic depth while embracing tradition, Latin, and weaved mostly with a common thread of blues. Coincidental Moment adds another gem to her robust catalog, now numbering 27 in all.
- Jim Hynes
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