Hilton and her trio manifest a memorable experience on life is beautiful, her third recording of the pandemic era, and the acclaimed pianist, composer, and producer’s twenty-fifth album as a leader. On it, Hilton indulges her love of the piano with ten original tracks and the cover gem, Ernie’s Blues, (written by Ernie Wilkins). Backed by her ever-excellent band mates: Rudy Royston on drums and Luques Curtis on bass, Hilton’s elegantly swinging piano and engaging compositions encompass a range from traditional tracks, Latin, blues and retro seamlessly.
Royston continually hits the marks on his kit, and Curtis shows off plenty of style over this splendid repertoire of compositions. The album begins with an impressive bass solo from Curtis on the classic Ernie’s Blues. The tune’s complex chords and loose bluesy passages allow accomplished soloing from Hilton as well. Retro Road Trip highlights Royston’s rhythm skills and has a bit of a Prokofiev energy amid mid-century grooves.
Inspired by classic American Standards, Hilton includes two romantic compositions here: So This Is Love and Nightingales and Fairy Tales – both evoking nostalgic charms and reminiscent of some of Bill Evans work in his sixties period. Too Hot dips into modal ideas creating its own melodic atmosphere. Hilton includes two Latin flavored compositions: Stepping Into Paradise as well as Santa Monica Samba, that show the versatility of the trio in mingling different Latin styles together effortlessly.
Seduction is a solo piano piece that Hilton has recorded before, with a new extended version here, showcasing Hilton’s love for the blues. Temporary Lullaby, written for Hilton’s daughter, is a melodic standout. In her liner notes, it mentions that More Than Another Day nods to Miles Davis, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Cole Porter.
Q & A with Lisa Hilton
Q: Congratulations on your latest release: how many does this make?
LH: I’ve recorded twenty – five albums now!
Q: Congrats – that’s quite a few! You must enjoy the process…
LH: I do! Ever since I was a little girl I have enjoyed creating art, music and experiences too.
Q: Yeah, I read your liner notes and saw that you started composing very young.
LH: Well those were very simple tunes – I was not a Mozart! It wasn’t until I was a teenager that my composing really started to improve – I’d play a bit for my friends and they were always encouraging.
Q: What do you mean when you say you “like to create experiences?”
LH: I love to compose individual tunes, but the CD or album to me is something you experience over and over. A book, concert or movie you experience normally once, but a musical experience like an album, or art you hang on your wall, continues to add to your life for a long time, or maybe forever if it’s a favorite. Yes, recording an album is always a lot of work, but I enjoy crafting and collaborating on a new experience every year for the listener – it actually energizes me. Someone told me that our music has become “the soundtrack to his life” – I like that!
Q: Nice! Speaking of collaborators, you’ve got your same trio back with Rudy Royston & Luques Curtis. What’s it like working with them?
LH: They are terrific players of course, but they are also nice, and have the highest work ethic. I think all musicians right now are hungry to play, so it feels really good when we have the opportunity to get together all day in the studio when we record. Despite the masks and other challenges, musicians need to create music. It sounds simplistic, but that’s how we thrive.
Q: How long have you worked with Rudy & Luques?
LH: Hmmm… I think the first time I performed with Rudy was probably 2011 or 2013 in Hollywood with our quartet including JD Allen on sax, and with Luques we first played together at the Smithsonian in D.C. in 2018. We’ve had some great times performing – I think we’ve played together at Carnegie Hall/NYC two or three times – the last time was in early 2020 with a very nice ovation!
Q: Were your writing to a concept for life is beautiful?
LH: As the pandemic continues on, like most of us, I wish I could do something positive that would help others. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make everyone well, but that’s not the way this world, or science works.
Q: Yeah, I hear you.
LH: The only thing I thought that might help others, is for us to create jazz that is an uplifting experience wherever you might be listening: working at home or driving to work, having a picnic or a fancy dinner, being in nature or at the gym – an experience or playlist for our lives. We all need a break from the news, and a reminder that no matter what is going on in our world, we can still find or create beauty around us. So this music is a collection inspired by different genres, eras, and cultures: it’s jazz for the twenty first century, and it’s based on enjoying the often forgotten beauty that is around us every single day.
Q: I like that. It was interesting to me that you mentioned women like Lil Hardin Armstrong, Joni Mitchell and Clara Schumann in your liner notes, who were/are great leaders as musicians, but who are often overlooked for all the contributions they’ve made.
LH: It has been implied by some that there hasn’t been leadership by women in classical, jazz or opera, but that isn’t true. We might not hear music by women composers in our great theaters, performing arts centers or jazz clubs very often, but we should! These women, and many others led inspiring lives and made plenty of cultural contributions – their stories should be told and their work honored.
Q: Last question: the album photos are very unique – how did you get those?
LH: We were hiking, and it was a little wintery and cloudy, but there was a luminous late afternoon sun still glowing off the ocean. The photographer, Aaron Regan, spotted a lovely random moment and had me stand on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Pacific. The photos actually remind me of this time in our world too – it’s a bit cloudy, but if you are looking… life is beautiful.
“The album that absolutely enthralls…. There’s an affirmation of goodness to the music of pianist Lisa Hilton, a quiet something of a positive nature that is known intrinsically true so listen in to Life Is Beautiful before it’s all too late.” All About Jazz/Mike Jurkovic
“Music of great depth and skill…brilliantly executed, gorgeously rendered, accessible-to-many virtuosic music…” The New York City Jazz Record
“Rich impressionistic form a la Debussy.” Jazz Weekly
“Dazzling!” The Midwest Record
“There’s an affirmation of benefits to the songs of pianist Lisa Hilton, a silent something of a favorable nature that is understood inherently real.” Flipside Media
“Just good tunes played well. Effortlessly enjoyable.” The Big Takeove
“Beautiful music…beautifully played!” KFAI/MN
“What a superb effort.” 2RRR fm/Australia
“An absolutely beautiful album. I love all the tunes…” KVNF Radio
“Wonderful recording as usual – Lisa Hilton sets high standards and reaches them on every recording – enhanced by a killer Bassist Luques Curtis and Drummer Rudy Royston – NICE!” CJSR/Canada
“Lisa has always been one of my favorite jazz musicians. She does not disappoint here!” WHFC/MD
“Always reliable artist delivering quality material.” World of Jazz Podcast
“Lisa Hilton is back in town, that’s delightful, with her magic piano…” Radio Arc-en-Ciel FM/France
“Truly wonderful!” Radio Activ/Greece
“Really nice piano led jazz.” Soulpower Radio/UK
“So goooood!” Radio Bossa Jazz Brasil – Sao Paolo, Brazil
“One of favourite Jazz Artists, I like her beauty to play jazz -her original style.” FM Urquiza/Argentina
“So wonderful!” IDC Radio/Israel
“That’s really a rare thing. Specially the first 4 tunes. Really great classic composition skills, very harmonic without being boring streamline. It’s rather an embracing coat of melodies, not wanting too much or trying to be edgy at any price. It has a European touch. The band works really well together.” CHOQ/Canada also Inanda FM/South Africa