Shamie Royston is a vigorous, versatile pianist whose approach spans the roil of “The Beast Within,” the placidity of “Healing Hymn” and the childlike, winning “Ruby Goes to School,” a tune by her husband Rudy, the muscular drummer who helps make this trio debut memorable.
Presented as a kind of autobiography, Portraits speaks to Royston’s faith and family. The contemplative “Healing Hymn” is an homage to her parents, while “Run,” one of the longest, most exciting tracks, reflects a time when Royston had too much on her mind. The one cover is Horace Silver’s cinematic “Summer in Central Park,” all dappled and impressionistic as Royston darts in and out of the melody, her husband guiding her with cymbal signposts.
Royston’s versatility is no surprise; she’s the older sister of (and a collaborator to) Tia Fuller, a saxophonist making her own mark in hard-driving jazz and as a member of Beyoncé Knowles’ backing band. Speaking of pop, Royston makes one relatively unsuccessful nod to the genre here: “In This Quiet Place,” a showcase for vocalist Camille Thurman, in an apparent attempt to channel Minnie Riperton. It’s a well-meaning tune but it doesn’t stick.
Otherwise, this is serious, stimulating jazz. Check out how Rudy blasts through the ending of “Healing,” how he and bassist Ivan Taylor envelop Shamie in the evocative title track, where she goes wide and fully chorded, her husband rolling behind her like the ghost of Elvin Jones. This is an album of drama and originality that makes you want to see Royston live. Her music listens so well it would be fun to watch.