Throughout a 20-year recording career, pianist Lisa Hilton has demonstrated a well-honed knack for choosing supportive accompanists—for 2015’s Horizons, her previous release, that meant first-call players like Sean Jones (trumpet), JD Allen (saxophone) and Rudy Royston (drums). Going the solo route for Day & Night, Hilton was well aware of the empty spaces she’d be willfully confronting. It’s to her credit that she knows, intuitively, when to try to fill them and when to revel in the openness that the absence of others creates.
Hilton has said that Day & Night is inspired by Cole Porter’s melodicism—the album title is a play on his composition “Night and Day,” and the only non-original in the set is Porter’s “Begin the Beguine,” taken at a leisurely, meditative pace, its melody dipped in melancholy. For all of the emphasis on melody though, Hilton doesn’t skimp on solid rhythmic grounding when it’s called for: On the uptempo, bolero-esque opener, “Caffeinated Culture,” her left hand is hyper-busy, maintaining the sprightly tempo while her right feels its way around until the pianist finally lets her fingers go where they’ve been aching to go all along.
The bulk of the songs, though, are rather more tranquil and reflective, affording Hilton abundant opportunity to seek and search. Numbers such as “Sunrise” and “So This Is Love” might, on the surface, be heard as little more than pretty tunes, but closer scrutiny reveals nuanced choices and numerous unforeseen turns. Hilton, even at her quietest, often brings an emotionalism to the simplest of ideas; layers of depth appear when you least expect them.
Hilton self-produced this album, but kudos must also go to veteran engineer Al Schmitt, who recorded her piano closely and sans effects. This is as unsullied as solo-piano recordings get.