There’s a quote in the press materials touting pianist Lisa Hilton’s Underground that’s borne out by the nine performances on the recording. “I don’t aspire to be Miles, Muddy or Monk,” says Hilton, “but I do reference these beloved composers.” And significant others, as it happens.
Bill Evans’ name didn’t make the cut, but presumably only for alliterative reasons. Hilton’s interpretation of the piano giant’s “B Minor Waltz” is among Underground’s more alluring treats, so shimmering and spacious that it’s not hard to imagine the composer being delighted by the result. Drummer Nasheet Waits’ artful brushwork and bassist Larry Grenadier’s elegant interlude contribute to the ebb and flow, and along with saxophonist JD Allen, they bring a haunting glow to the following track, “Blue Truth.”
Save for the Evans ballad, the tunes here were composed by Hilton, and they are diverse enough to display her skills—and those of her accomplished bandmates—in a variety of appealing settings. That’s true whether the mood is indigo (“Boston+Blues,” an evocative showcase that alludes to Hilton’s classical training), dramatically pitched (the modal vignette “Come & Go”) or as engaging as can be (the genre/era-shifting “Jack and Jill”).
Though not as well known as her session mates, Hilton easily holds her own during these performances, and her compositions clearly inspire all concerned. In fact, long before the album closes out with an extended reprise of “Someday, Somehow, Soon,” a rumbling, colorfully textured coda, the quartet comes across as a tight-knit working ensemble.