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Lisa Hilton: Chalkboard Destiny (Ruby Slippers)

A review of the pianist/composer's quartet album

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Lisa Hilton, Chalkboard Destiny
The cover of Chalkboard Destiny by Lisa Hilton

With a career that has spanned over two decades and 20-plus records, pianist/composer Lisa Hilton has earned the right to forge her own creative future. The compositions on her latest record Chalkboard Destiny do just that. The concept behind the album, as Hilton conveys it, is that “our future, our destiny, can be continually reshaped—implying that we are not beholden by history or traditional myths, allowing us a freedom in creation.” In her attempt to reshape the styles of various historical jazz luminaries, she remains firmly rooted in modernist technique, mastering each tune with elegance and edginess.

While Hilton has the ability to play well with any jazz group she leads, she chose the quartet format for this album. She teams up with Luques Curtis on bass, JD Allen on tenor sax, and drummer Rudy Royston, all of whom she has previously recorded with. The longstanding working relationship between Royston and Allen is very much evident on every track, especially the funky “Sympathy for Blues,” where they play off each other effortlessly. Hilton and Royston also share some fire on “Tropic of Tango” and the swinging “Café Au Mojo.”

Hilton has a knack for writing original compositions that expand the traditional pianist spectrum. That’s apparent on all the songs, but especially the title track, where her solo prowess takes center stage. The only cover on the album is the haunting Joni Mitchell tune “Blue Boy,” which starts off with a beautiful yet somber intro from Hilton and follows with a masterful tenor eulogy from Allen, who cleverly evokes the ghosts of John Coltrane and Dexter Gordon.

This is a strong quartet; each musician showcases his or her own creative energy and when they come together, nothing but virtuoso madness results.

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Veronica Johnson

Veronica Johnson is a freelance music writer from Detroit. She has written for Detroit-based publications Metro Times, Real Detroit Weekly, Model D, and The Michigan Historical Review, as well as the national jazz site The Jazz Line. Her work on Detroit hip-hop was published in the 2014 book A Detroit Anthology. She is also a board member of the Detroit Sound Conservancy, a grassroots Detroit music preservation organization.