Pianist Shamie Royston, on her sophomore leader project, is fond of making bold statements, and she encourages her accompanists to do the same—Beautiful Liar is packed with numerous standout moments. Yet it’s anything but a cutting contest. Even as a given participant is blowing hard, there’s never a sense that the individual proclamation is meant to overwhelm the ensemble. “Dissimulate,” one of the nine tracks written by Royston (the 10th is Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day”), is a prime example: Royston, trumpeter Josh Evans and saxophonist Jaleel Shaw spend its lead-in bantering before the latter’s alto excuses itself to take charge. For the next several minutes Shaw, then Evans, then finally the leader offers a tastefully framed passage. Only when Royston steps up does it become blatantly obvious that she’s been serving in a polite support role all along while patiently planning her own entrée. The same approach rules on “Push,” albeit at a quicker pace.
A good part of the credit for this group’s model behavior goes to the rhythm section, Yasushi Nakamura on bass and Rudy Royston (Shamie’s husband) a solid anchor on drums. On “Uplifted Heart,” Nakamura walks gingerly for a bit, glides a while, leaving open spaces to be filled (or left empty), and ultimately takes a solo that so beautifully rides the line between rich melodicism and deep soul that you’re sorry when he recedes back into place. But that’s the way things go here, with five players who know the meaning of both complementary and complimentary.