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Still barely known outside her native Italy, Aisha HR's debut album announces the arrival an arresting young pianist in the Bill Evans/Herbie Hancock lineage. One of the finalists in an Italian piano competition presided over by Enrico Pieranunzi, HR (formerly Ruggieri) came to jazz following extensive classical training in Amsterdam, Rome and Venice.
In the US, where she now spends some of her time, HR is something of a mentoree of New York-based pianist David Hazeltine, who produced A-Symmetry and who, presumably, suggested his own regular colleagues Paul Gill (bass) and Joe Strasser (drums) as accompanists. If so, Hazeltine got it right. Far from being fazed, HR seems entirely at ease in the company of the two more seasoned NY musicians, who give top-dollar, swinging support to her lyrical and vivacious playing.
Most of the tunes are covers, and HR breathes freshness and youth into each of them. She gives criminally pretty readings of Ellington and Strayhorn's "The Star Crossed Lovers" and Earth Wind & Fire's "You Can't Hide Love," and lends clever new harmonic progressions to the familiar warhorses "The Nearness Of You" and "Round Midnight." (A second Monk tune, "Ask Me Now," she leaves closer to the composer's changes.)
There are two originals: "Alejandra Smooth Blues," which is velvety rather than yuck-smooth, and the more complex and ambitious closer, "Waltzin' In Vernon Boulevard," at over seven minutes the longest track. Shifting time signatures and muscular, two-handed block chord passages suggest the influence of McCoy Tyner (whose own "Aisha," of course, opens the album).
Although she has clearly absorbed the work of older masters, HR is her own woman. A-Symmetry is an unusually compelling debut album, and HR is a nameor two capital letters, anywayto look out for.
Track Listing: Aisha; Alejandra Smooth Blues; The Star Crossed Lovers; The Nearness of You; You Can't Hide Love; Ask me Now/Round Midnight; Waltzin' In Vernon Boulevard.
Personnel: Aisha HR: piano; Paul Gill: bass; Joe Strasser: drums.