How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
The New York Sessions is the ninth release by pianist Lisa Hilton, whose last name lovingly adorns the bath towels in the suitcases of itinerant musicians around the world. A self-produced and largely self-motivated musician from the rougher section of Malibu, Hilton's avowed influences and illustrious associations promise great thingsbut the world is a harsh place, and sometimes promises are broken.
Hilton is surrounded by a mighty supporting cast, but even a cursory listen reveals that their skills are conspicuously surplus to requirements. How any pianist could assemble a rhythm section that boasts Christian McBride and Lewis Nash, without even the slightest forward momentum, is completely beyond the grasp of this jaded but earnest critic. The musicians are not at fault, since Hilton's compositions and musicianship are uniformly uninspiring, repetitive, and just plain inept.
Two takes of "Both Sides Now" showcase Hilton's thrilling execution of major scale runs in the key of C. The aptly titled "Over and Over Again" proves to be a futile, redundant and pedestrian effortall key elements of her compositional and improvisational abilities. "Just Want to Be With You" once again features Hilton's uncanny mastery of the major scale, as the listener is blissfully swept above the clouds and then unceremoniously dropped into a dumpster, despondent and disappointed.
From the pantheon of great American music, Hilton has chosen Ray Charles' "A Bit of Soul," (a very little bit of soul, indeed), and manages to transform a pot full of hot gumbo into cold porridge in the span of three minutes and forty-six seconds. "Emily" isn't as bad, despite a few clams and harmonic bypasses, but the real horror here is Monk's "Epistrophy," which finds the pianist in a battle with Monk's trademark, harmonically rich arpeggios. Here's a hint; the arpeggios win the battle, but the hapless listener ultimately loses the war.
Now and then, independently produced recordings reveal great work deserving wider recognition, and this disc is certainly not among them. Conventional musical discourse is impossible to apply to works by musicians with ample means and poor skills. Lisa Hilton's acknowledged influences should include the patron saints of self-publishing; Johann Gutenberg, Thomas Paine and, of course, William Randolph Hearst. Their historic efforts have given Hilton the mechanism, the freedom, and the wherewithal to forge a career in the 21st century. Self-identified jazz musicians such as Hilton, whose delusions of street credibility, questionable claims of technical skill, and erroneous assertions of artistic merit somehow consistently lack supporting evidence in their work.
So here goes: The New York Sessions is great fodder for the aspiring dilettante, a must for background music at the next gala luncheon, and an ideal coaster for your next cocktail party. Sadly, the only swing to be found on this disc is in the motion of the pendulum, as it ambivalently traverses the arc between philanthropy and misanthropy.
In the immortal words of Humphrey Bogart, at the very least, "We'll always have Paris."
Track Listing: Both Sides Now; Over and Over Again; Just Want to Be With You; A Bit of Soul; Emily; Seduction; The Last Time; Where Are You Now; Listen to Your Heart; Epistrophy; Mystery; Both Sides Now (Alt.).
Personnel: Lisa Hilton: piano; Christian McBride: bass; Lewis Nash: drums; Jeremy Pelt: trumpet and flugelhorn; Steve Wilson: sax.