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Lisa Hilton: American Impressions

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Don’t let the greeting card sentiment fool you. The title of pianist-composer Lisa Hilton’s latest release isn’t nearly as telling as its supporting lineup: tenor saxophonist JD Allen, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Nasheet Waits. With these musicians in her corner, Hilton couldn’t pass off a pastel assortment of soundscapes even if she tried.

As listeners have come to expect, Hilton has set her sights on something far more substantial and evocative, drawing inspiration from a variety of sources, including the music of Duke Ellington and Joni Mitchell. “Echoes of Harlem,” the Ellington entry, is a resonating blue note excursion uptown, while Mitchell’s “Rainy Night House,” in Hilton’s hands, offers disquieting shelter from the storm. The remaining 10 selections are original pieces that underscore Hilton’s fascination with blues, jazz, folk, minimalism and other American traditions. “Too Hot” is Southern gothic, “Subway” a crowded commute. “Don’t Stop” radiates a skittish energy, “Waterfall” a pastoral calm, at least for a while.

The arrangements aren’t the least bit cluttered, but there are abundant nuances to appreciate, as when Waits is artfully wielding brushes, which is often the case, or when Allen slyly and soulfully brings his horn to bear on “Accidental Romance.” Throughout, Grenadier is in typically alert, supportive form.

With over a dozen albums to her credit, Hilton should be a far more widely known artist than she is. Her finest recordings, including this one, make that case time and again.

Originally Published