Ruby Slippers Productions
Composer/pianist/producer, Lisa Hilton is back less than a year later with her follow-up to her 2020 More Than Another Day, again featuring her longstanding bandmates: Rudy Royston on drums, and Luques Curtis on bass. Considering that this writer has covered Hilton twice previously for two different outlets, perhaps an introduction is appropriate for you, the reader. In doing so, we pause to reflect on the late, renowned engineer and mixer Al Schmitt who called her 2019 Chalkboard Destiny with this trio and tenorist J.D. Allen “his favorite album we’ve worked on” and mixed her last effort. Hilton has a clear vision of how she wants to sound as she beautifully plays the Steinway. Lisa admits to echoes of classical traditions, and twentieth-century modernists as well as classic American jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and Horace Silver, as well as blues heroes Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. The band never rehearses; she introduces the composition and then they play, so like the best jazz, it all unfolds in the moment. Hilton’s piano sound is lush, delicate, and highly melodic, best evidenced by the solo title track. Her nine compositions and one cover traverse several moods, tempos, and harmonic depth.
The recording commences with the Latin tinged “Santa Monica Samba,” yet another example of Hilton’s affection for Brazilian music. She quickly follows with the equally energetic “Random Journey,” interlocked tight in the tricky rhythms with Royston and Curtis. Hilton’s graceful and elegant approach to ballads is showcased in “Nightingales & Fairy Tales,” a melodic, uplifting, almost like a refreshing splash of water on the face tune that echoes with strains of early Bill Evans. “Living In Limbo,” “Chromatic Chronicles,” “Fall Upon a Miracle” and “Infinite Tango,” highlight the multiple creative and oft complex rhythms of Hilton’s compositions and showcase ample opportunities for Curtis’s agile bass, and the detailed versatility and dynamic command of Royston’s drums. These intricate rhythms attest to the confidence she has in her longtime trio.
The lone cover, “God Bless The Child,” strikes the right balance between restraint and potency, with the unforced phrasing that one could envision with an emotive vocalist. While the blues is more subtle in Hilton’s playing, she does have some of the qualities of blues artist, focusing on “the right notes” rather than trying to hit every ebony or ivory key. This makes her musical more accessible than many piano trios who delve in a more abstract presentation. “Chromatic Chronicles” is one demonstrative example of this technique. Slowing towards the album’s end, “Extraordinary Everyday Things” is a calm and expressive soundscape, with its left-hand dominance, being the only tune here with a mostly dark aura. With a surprise twist, Hilton caps the album with the title track, “Transparent Sky” as a sonorous piano solo, revealing her classical influences and creating a spacious feel in keeping with the title.
Hilton originally taught herself to play piano with a colored keyboard guide, writing her first simple songs around six years, before beginning studies in classical and twentieth-century music starting at the age of eight. In college, she switched majors from music and graduated instead with a degree in art. Hilton’s art background informs her compositions: she describes “painting” compositions using improvisation, and harmony or “sculpting” with constantly changing rhythmic ideas from different cultures. Like the best composers her compositions can set various moods but throughout she plays straight-ahead, eminently listenable jazz, played with both energy and finesse. You may find it worthwhile to explore Hilton’s catalog too and even if you don’t wade too far into it, check out Chalkboard Destiny as Allen’s playing is most impressive and adds a different feel to this same trio.
Not only is Hilton a talented musician but a caring person as well. Hilton often speaks of the profound imbalance of jazz and classical music presented in great concert halls, opera theaters and clubs where most music heard is written by male composers: “The music created by women should also be performed, to be enjoyed by audiences around the world.” Hilton also constantly works with students who are visually disabled across the US stating: “Music should be for everyone.” Her accessible music is designed to make us feel good and bring smiles. Bask in it.
- Jim Hynes
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