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Lisa Hilton: Getaway

Dan Bilawsky By

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Pianist Lisa Hilton has made an art out of balancing the simple and complex. Her work speaks with extreme clarity and serves as a benchmark for a less-is-more style of piano playing that appeals to a wide swath of listeners, but it isn't plain-Jane jazz. Hilton has a way of taking a basic idea and stretching its conceptual fabric to the breaking point. Singsong ideals are twisted, contorted and distorted, and rhythmic ideas are pulled out of focus, blurring the firm-time realities that actually exist underneath it all. This form of musical cunning helped to make Underground (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2011) and American Impressions (Ruby Slippers Productions, 2012) so intriguing, and it serves Getaway just as well.

Getaway is both a return to standard form and a departure from the norm for Hilton. She's working with musicians who've appeared by her side before, but she's left the quartet comfort zone and ventured into trio territory, where transparency and trickery both seem to thrive. Hilton's most frequent on-record collaborator—bassist Larry Grenadier—and the man who helped her shake things up and put a darker spin on things—drummer Nasheet Waits—join up again. They both assist Hilton in painting a bluesy picture, where shadows and light share space and the brooding and bright coexist in equal measures.

The album takes flight with a dark, cycling pattern that underlines a song that's both diaphanous and direct ("Getaway"). Things progress with jaunty notions, as playful melodic snippets come and go ("Just For Fun"). Both of these formulas, with certain twists, serve Hilton well in other places, but they don't define the album. The music falls into a state of cinematic reverie at other times ("Evening Song"), but excitement and the unexpected are always lurking around the corner ("City Streets" and "Lost & Found"). The majority of the program is given up to Hilton originals, but two covers—"Stormy Monday Blues" and Adele's "Turning Tables"—give the trio an opportunity to try their hand at music of the past and present.

The rarely-encountered marriage between stasis and surprise is central to the success of Getaway. Hilton's left hand often acts as a constant, serving as a steady presence and eye in the storm, and Grenadier often grounds the group, allowing Hilton and Waits to color around his bass. Waits remains the wonderful wildcard, as on Hilton's two previous albums, but he tempers his explosive side. Both Grenadier and Waits are far more technically adept than Hilton—and 99% of the playing population—but they don't flaunt their musical muscle in this setting. They both play in service of the music and all three musicians prove complementary to one another.

Getaway, more than any other release thus far, provides a clear picture of Lisa Hilton as artist, conceptualist builder, and sculptor of sounds. It also confirms what was already known: Hilton is a conjurer of musical spells, moods and magic who defies easy categorization.

Track Listing: Getaway; Just For Fun; Stormy Monday Blues; Stepping Into Paradise; Evening Song; City Streets; Lost & Found; Emergency; Turning Tables; Unforgotten; Stop & Go; Slow Down; Huckleberry Moon.

Personnel: Lisa Hilton: piano; Larry Grenadier: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums.

Title: Getaway | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Ruby Slippers Productions

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