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“My favorite album that I have worked on with Lisa – there’s lots of great music!” – 23 Time Award Winning Grammy® Engineer Al Schmitt
“We live in an exciting time of constant change…” is the introductory quote from the award winning composer, and acclaimed pianist Lisa Kristine Hilton, in her liner notes for her latest release “Chalkboard Destiny” – recorded with jazz luminaries JD Allen on tenor sax, Rudy Royston on drums and Luques Curtis on bass. It’s an appropriate prelude for an album that unfolds with the track Rush Hour Rhapsody – quickly exposing the listener to the robust energy of Hilton’s band. There’s also a hard-to-pin-down energy flowing between Allen’s explosive virtuoso displays, the dynamic details of Royston’s accents and the booming lines of Curtis’s bass alongside Hilton’s fluid piano, which is impressive in a beguiling way. Allen’s solo in the middle of Sympathy for Blues is astounding, and along with Curtis’s agile bass, Royston’s touch and the laid back retro charm of Hilton’s piano you’ll want to play this one over and over.
Hilton conveys that the concept behind Chalkboard Destiny is the idea that our future, our destiny, can be continually reshaped, – implying that we are not beholden by history or traditional myths, allowing us a freedom in creation. The title track, Chalkboard Destiny, easily exhibits this concept with Royston’s rim shots crackling for attention. Hilton shows her harmonic and emotional depth with her tender ballad, Temporary Lullaby, as well as the moving Waltz From Nowhere. The Joni Mitchell classic, Blue Boy showcases the compatibility of this group – Allen’s dusky tenor a contrast to his band mates. Tracks Tropic of Tango, Myths & Fantasy, and Adventures & Alibis all explore Latin rhythms and engaging harmonic ideas as well. Café au Mojo, is a bright piece where traditional ideas abound. It’s noteworthy that Grammy award winning engineers – Al Schmitt, Gavin Lurssen, Reuben Cohen, Fernando Lodeiro all contributed to the high quality soundscape. Altogether an exuberant exhibition of top notch players rallying around traditional ideas in new ways. Sounds like destiny.
Q & A with Lisa Hilton
Q. Another new release – how many is that now?
Lisa Hilton: Well let’s see, twenty- two releases in the US & two in Asia, so twenty- four total. There’s a couple of compilations that my work has also appeared on!
Q. You must be very disciplined, to put out new recordings every year, right?
A: I don’t look at it that way at all! I have a deep love for composing and then I appreciate growing the music through the recording and touring aspects. Sure, it take years to develop your skill set, but now I get to devote time doing what I love and touching people’s lives musically around the world every year. That’s fun, not work for me.
Q. Tell us about the concept for Chalkboard Destiny.
A: The last two to three years have seemed unusually full of tumult on our planet: from politics to climate catastrophes. I’m not even sure when this kind of flux last happened. But it’s starting to sink in that this is our new normal, so I started looking at the advantages of living in a time of accelerated change. It’s a time to rewrite history, to bust myths, to create our own fantasies perhaps and to forge a new destiny or future. That’s pretty cool. I think artistically it’s a fertile time I choose to explore – I think you can hear that blend of jazz traditions performed within a new context on the album – I think you can hear a little bit of (jazz pianists/composers), a little bit of Count Basie, a little Horace Silver…
Q. and some Coltrane too…
A: Yeah, JD reminds me of Coltrane. I’ve worked with him since 2009, and I’ve toured and recorded with JD, Rudy and Luques a few times too, so we feel like family – I think you can hear that. I love Luques’s cool bass lines, & Rudy’s detail work as well as JD’s colossal sound. I’m a big fan of my bandmates!
Q. It does sound like you guys work really well together, really complimenting each other’s style.
A: We really enjoyed recording it. You know, we never rehearse, I just introduce the composition and then we play, so everything you hear is unfolding in the moment and it creates a tension you can hear. My favorite track was Sympathy for Blues – that piece just explodes in the middle section! Luques said he liked the Rush Hour Rhapsody best with its old school vibe, and Rudy said he wished he had written Temporary Lullaby himself, which is kind of him. JD said he especially liked Waltz From Nowhere and the ‘Spanish tinge’ of Myths & Fantasy which is interesting. He sounds very classical on those tracks.
Q. Is there a story behind the Joni Mitchell track, Blue Boy?
A: Joni Mitchell is an incredible composer and Blue Boy is a very strong composition. I seem to be drawn more to composers who are women and I think it’s important to support women in my industry too – most jazz standards are all written by men, so we need to work towards greater parity. I think Joni was referring to her lover Leonard Cohen in her lyrics and the inevitable demise of that relationship. In the studio the band was a bit reluctant to record it – I don’t think they really knew the piece. So I told them what I heard in my head, and played it though once for them. Then we did two breathtakingly beautiful takes together. Thankfully afterwards everyone was like, “Great idea – I loved that, so I’m glad we did record it!
Q. I noticed you worked again with top tier engineers Al Schmitt, Fernando Lodeiro, Gavin Lurssen and Reuben Cohen.
A: I first worked with (twenty three Grammy® Award winning engineer) Al Schmitt in 2003 I think – I admire him as an artist in his field and a very inspiring person too. In 2009 on Twilight & Blues Fernando Lodeiro worked on that project with us and I really liked him, and now he’s a Grammy® Award winning engineer too! Gavin Lurssen I have worked with since 1997 and his business partner Reuben Cohen for several years – they have their share of Grammy’s® as well. I really care about the sound, and I’m lucky to have these steadfast relationships with the best engineers in the world.
Q. When do you start your touring?
A: Janary 9th at Carnegie Hall – I think it’s my sixth year in a row that week at Carnegie. What’s I think I is cool is that I bring the music of a woman composer when I tour – most performing arts centers only perform work by male composers, so I am helping to change that. We’ll also do a show for Perkins School for the Blind in Boston – I like to be supportive of students who are visually impaired every year.
“Simply one of the best of the year.”
All About Jazz
“WOW! Hilton has an absolutely unique and beautiful sound and regardless of the tempo, she has an irresistible momentum and brilliant phrasing. Chalkboard Destiny is one of the top ten jazz albums I have ever heard…just the unvarnished truth.”
Hugh Carson/KVNF Radio
“My favorite album we’ve worked on – there’s a lot of great music!”
Al Schmitt, 23-time Grammy Award winning engineer/producer
“An intimate and solid piano, with harmonies that seduce and captivate; Lisa Hilton has authentic and continuous musical creative passion.”
“Albums like ‘Chalkboard Destiny’ scream for attention and praise. The group is strong, assured, creative and fresher than most of what is being passed around these days as modern jazz. Few artists have a personal and yet accessible sound these days. Hilton gets put in the top rung on this one.”
“This is straight-ahead, eminently listenable jazz, played with both energy and finesse, showcasing Hilton’s compositional strengths… It’s a beautiful listen.”