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Nikki Iles: Hush

Bruce Lindsay By

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The transatlantic band that created Hush—British pianist Nikki Iles, and American bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Jeff Williams—had never played together as a trio before their single rehearsal session on the night prior to recording at Dave Bennett's New Jersey studio in September 2010. That the album sounds like the product of years of collaboration is a testament to the trio's skills, and to these three musicians' mutual understanding, for Hush is a beautiful and affecting record.

The overall mood is, unsurprisingly, hushed. This is a quiet, reflective, subtle collection where nuance triumphs over any desire to overplay or to rush into demonstrations of technical expertise. It's an object lesson in the power of control: each of the musicians is eminently capable of opening up and making bold musical statements but chooses not to, focusing instead on interplay that emphasizes this hushed atmosphere while also enhancing the contributions of the other two players.

Iles opens the album with a delicate solo introduction to Kenny Wheeler's "Everybody's Song But My Own," making an instant emotional connection to the music. Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way" was the first number the trio recorded. Iles' piano skips and hops joyfully, Williams' drums do likewise and Reid keeps everything centered with fluid and graceful lines. Miles Davis' "Nardis" and Ralph Towner's "The Glide" make a superb pairing: Iles describes "Nardis" as "a bit dark," while she views the Towner tune as "a playful piece." The equally striking pairing of Michel Legrand's "You Must Believe in Spring" and Rogers and Hart's "Spring Is Here" works in a similar fashion, opening almost pessimistically before Iles, in homage to Bill Evans, celebrates the arrival of the season in joyous style.

Iles' own compositions are equally fascinating and affecting. "Meditations," which she dedicates to guitarist and collaborator Mike Walker, is a hypnotic, beautiful tune featuring some of Williams' most inventive drumming. "Hush," inspired by another of Iles' collaborators, saxophonist Stan Sulzmann, is characterized by some fine single note playing from its composer. The inspiration for "The Incense Of Colour" came from Iles' visit to Chartres Cathedral. The tune shares the delicate beauty and freedom of "Meditations."

In an extensive discography that reaches back to the early 1990s, Iles has mostly recorded as a collaborator or band member rather than as leader. Hush provides ample proof, if it were needed, that she can lead a band just as successfully as she can play and compose. Hopefully this Iles/Reid/Williams debut will be the start of a long and fruitful partnership.

Track Listing: Everybody's Song But My Own; Meditations; Nardis; The Glide; You Must Believe in Spring / Spring Is Here; Hush; Hi Steve; In Your Own Sweet Way; The Incense of Colour.

Personnel: Nikki Iles: piano; Rufus Reid: double bass; Jeff Williams: drums.

Title: Hush | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Basho Records


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