Lisa Hilton: Oasis (Ruby Slippers)

A review of the pianist/composer's trio album with bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Mark Whitfield Jr.

Lisa Hilton

Cover of Oasis by Lisa Hilton

Oasis is a trio recording that follows a quintet set that followed a solo effort. Throughout her two-decade recording career, pianist/composer Lisa Hilton has zig-zagged in her approach to configuration; it keeps things lively for her and allows her to demonstrate her adaptability. Regardless of her chosen setting, though, the level of Hilton’s artistry never wavers: Her compositional skills and classically informed arrangements are uniformly smart and her playing, while short of dazzling, has never been less than inspired.

With bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Mark Whitfield Jr., Hilton reaffirms that she’s a take-charge leader on Oasis, a master of melodicism and dynamics who’s also a willing team player. The latter quality is to her advantage here: Whitfield and Curtis have worked together for years with other leaders and possess an innate sense of when to stick to providing support and when to kick it up a notch. All they need to make things happen is someone who’s up to their own standards.

Ten of the 11 tracks here are Hilton’s; the other is the Gershwin nugget “Fascinating Rhythm,” played with an uncharacteristic looseness and more than a touch of cheek. Of her own tunes, Hilton sets the pace with opener “Twists of Fate,” stretching its basic blues changes till it veers close to the edge of something else altogether. Other tracks—the title tune and “Sunday Morning” among them—glide along on their pastoral grandeur, the rhythm section swinging just enough to provide Hilton with something solid to work from.

Mostly though, Oasis is at its best when all three take the leap into the unexpected, as they do on the freest piece here, “Watercolor World,” which is everything its title suggests.

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