Transparent Sky

Lisa Hilton

Ruby Slippers Productions 1026

#1 Amazon New Release/Cool Jazz


Lisa Hilton and Her Trio with Luques Curtis and Rudy Royston Masterfully Blend Traditions in an Inspiring New Recording.

As America and other countries re-emerge from the limitations of 2020, Lisa Hilton and her trio with Rudy Royston and Luques Curtis, enthusiastically embrace the moment with a vibrant new jazz offering titled Transparent Sky, that will inspire, uplift and motivate us all. Rich with glorious harmonies and unique compositions, Hilton’s swinging band radiates a sun bleached aura to listeners. Throughout the album Hilton, Royston and Curtis develop a surprisingly wide range of rhythmic ideas from a variety of genres, masterfully blending classic traditions with new approaches and upbeat style.

The recording jumps in with the Latin tinged “Santa Monica Samba,” quickly following with the equally energetic “Random Journey” on this collection of nine originals, plus one cover. “What developed this year was a LOT of movement and richer chords and harmonies – which makes sense when you consider how static last year was. As musicians we need to challenge and also entertain ourselves, so I think that’s why I subconsciously wrote in so many rhythm changes and multiple harmonic directions,” says Hilton. “Living In Limbo,” “Chromatic Chronicles,” “Fall Upon a Miracle” and “Infinite Tango,” highlight the multiple creative rhythms of Hilton’s compositions and showcase ample opportunities for Curtis’s agile bass, and the delightful details of Royston’s drums.

Hilton has a way with ballads, and “Nightingales & Fairy Tales” is no exception. With its slight nod to Bill Evans in the sixties, this has the making of a jazz classic for a twenty - first century audience. In the same vein, a cover of “God Bless The Child,” co-written by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr, is a charmer, and like all the tracks here, is skillfully and originally presented without being forced. “For a long time I’ve been trying to record cover songs by women who were composers, because there is very little attention paid to them in jazz. I think it’s important to give women recognition for their range of talents, and by promoting them, maybe we will see less discrimination in music”, Hilton muses.

Slowing towards the album’s end, “Extraordinary Everyday Things” is a calm and expressive soundscape, but with a surprise twist, Hilton finishes up with the title track, “Transparent Sky” as a sonorous piano solo. “The melody is beautiful and has a bit of swing, but the harmonic ideas are quite chromatic and dissonant with overlapping/lingering sonorities between bar lines.” She says. “This piece needs to be played sensitively or it will sound harsh, but that is like our lives today - we are living in sensitive times and need to be aware of how we connect and communicate. The solo piano clearly delivers those delicate harmonies along with the emotions. It’s about accepting our world as it is, whatever may be happening at that moment. Tomorrow will bring what it will, but there is still beauty to be found if we look for it, amid the dissonance of our times.” Hilton explains.

“It’s beautiful!” — KVNF Radio

“Hilton’s philosophy of new ideas tied to older heartbeats, countered effusively by an actively improvisational impressionism, has resulted in a discography brightly colored with real beauts…”All About Jazz

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Q. & A. with composer/pianist/band leader, Lisa Hilton on her new release TRANSPARENT SKY with bandmates Rudy Royston/drums and Luques Curtis/bass


Q.  You, Rudy & Luques recently came out with the acclaimed 2020 release, More Than Another Day.  How soon after that were you back in the studio for Transparent Sky?

A.  We recorded More Than Another Day in August 2020 and Transparent Sky in May 2021- so about nine months apart. We all had a bit of extra time on our hands since there has not been any touring, so it was wonderfully normal to be playing again!  I felt incredibly happy to be together and we had a much better experience than we did last August when we were anxious and awkward wearing masks and staying apart.  This year, post vaccines, we could be ourselves and enjoy things.  I have been very thankful that More Than Another Day has been so successful – one of the top recordings at Jazz Week so far for 2021 - but it was a bit stressful to create.  Transparent Sky is very uplifting and has a lot of energy, so we hope listeners will like this one too.

Q.  Is there a concept behind the title?
A.  I think the title refers to how many of us are feeling right now:  If a sunny sky connotes a good future, and a dark sky represents where humanity was in 2020, Transparent Sky has a sense of taking the moment for what it is – and to cherish what we can here and now.  We don’t have any promises for tomorrow, do we? Today looks pretty good though.

Q.  There’s a lot of different kinds of swing and movement on this album – was that intentional?
A.  I always let the music emerge as I compose: I don’t know what I will create and I don’t try and force a direction or try to control it.  What developed was a LOT of movement and richer chords and harmonies this year – which makes sense when you consider how static last year was and how we had less activities – as musicians we need to challenge and entertain ourselves too, so I think that’s why I subconsciously wrote in so many rhythm changes and multiple harmonic directions.  Then of course, it was great fun to have Luques and Rudy add all their ideas and textures too.  Our engineer, Chandler Harrod, did a great job recording and I love hearing all the cool bass and drum additions to the compositions. This music really gets me moving and I love that!

Q.  Was this recording a new direction for you and your trio?
A. I began working in the direction of splicing different rhythms, genres and eras compositionally with our 2014 album Kaleidoscope.  I feel that music of today should have genre mobility – that we prefer multiple ideas and references musically from any era or style, and like the colored pieces inside a kaleidoscope, that life/humanity/music is more interesting because of variety.  Transparent Sky, my band, and our music are examples of this approach: that beauty in our world is created through inclusion – if there were only red squares in a kaleidoscope, it would have no appeal.

Q.  That’s true!  I’m curious, do you bring sheet music scores to the studio or do you just wing it?  Do you rehearse?
A.  When I first began recording, I didn’t use any written scores at all – I just played the tune a couple times and then we recorded – a la the Miles Davis Kind of Blue approach.  But I think it’s kinder to have the sheet music, so now I do all the scores ahead of time in Sibelius: being self -taught it took me a while to master notation software, but now it’s fun for me to create the scores – of course there is always room for improvisation too – the scores are more like skeletons for the band to work from.  We still don’t rehearse though – jazz has never been about perfection – it’s supposed to be a bit loose and capture the energy of the moment, whether it’s partially written or improvised.  In classical music you shoot for perfection, but jazz has the energy that anything can happen at any moment, and for jazz lovers we find that much more engaging and dynamic.

Q.  You included the cover God Bless The Child that was popularized and sung by Billie Holiday.  Tell us about that selection please.
A.  For a long time I’ve been trying to record cover songs by women who were composers, because there is very little attention paid to them in jazz – they are normally identified as singers or instrumentalists.  I’ve recorded tunes by Joni Mitchell, Ann Ronnell and Janis Joplin, and I was surprised that I hadn’t even realized that Billie Holiday had written/co-written several songs.  She is one of the most well - known and enduring jazz recording artists, yet we seem to know a lot more about her love affairs and drug habits than we do about her talents, right? 

Q. That’s true!  Did she write God Bless The Child?
A.   Yes, she was the co-writer with Arthur Herzog Jr.  I’ve read two books and seen a movie about Billie Holiday, and they never highlighted the fact she was a composer!  I think it’s important to give women recognition for all their talents, and by promoting these talents maybe we will see less discrimination in jazz/classical/opera music.  Thankfully we see more women as bandleaders, producers, instrumentalists and recording engineers, but performing arts centers, opera houses and jazz clubs around the world are still almost entirely focused on presenting music of male composers.  Billie Holiday should be recognized for her skills as a songwriter – it’s a great tune!

Q. Can you talk about the other tracks on your new album?  Are these new compositions, or arrangements of older tunes?
A. Transparent Sky consists of nine brand new compositions plus the one cover, God Bless the Child. With these new compositions, and the eight new ones on our 2020 release, More Than Another Day, that’s seventeen new tunes in nine months which is unusual for me, but it’s an unusual time, right?

Q. It is.  And there’s been time away from touring too.
A. Yep no touring yet.  I haven’t been talking much about the music itself, which I normally do at a performance, so I’ll try my best here.  For the most part, I’m always exploring musical ways to connect and communicate the times we’re experiencing. Santa Monica Samba was written last fall when it looked like worldwide health concerns were improving.  I was anticipating being able to see family and friends for the holidays, had witnessed a blazingly beautiful fall sunset with palm trees in nearby Santa Monica, and I just wanted to write something that would express that euphoric moment - I even added a dash of jazz pianist Horace Silver’s vibe, (he lived near Santa Monica at one time too).  Then of course, we hit difficulties last winter as Covid cases increased.  The randomness of that time and not being able to make any plans, led to the tracks Random Journey, Living In Limbo, Infinite Tango and Fall Upon a Miracle. I worked at using different rhythms, some elements of disruption, and a bit of vintage vibe to convey that restless feels-like-we’re-going-nowhere time.

Q. It sounds almost like composing was a diary for you.
A. Sometimes it was.  But then there are other tracks like Chromatic Chronicles that are purely based on musical ideas – in this case chromaticism.  I always notice composers who rely on chromaticism: small tonal shifts that destabilize the melody, like Debussy or Chopin – but I was curious if I could do that with different blues scales in a jazz context, so I did, and it’s kinda fun to play too! The title track, Transparent Sky, featured overlapping chromatic sonorities, but I was trying to create a sense of floating with that one, so it has a different intention and approach, but it still has chromaticism.

Q. OK. Nightingales & Fairy Tales is an unusual title – tell us about that please.
A.  Last year when the pandemic hit, I decided to write another love song.  I have about 200 compositions, but really have only one love song in the bunch.

Q.  Which one is that? 
A.  So This Is Love, and it’s always an audience favorite, so I thought, How hard can it be to write another love song?  So I had a lot of fun looking at songwriters like Cole Porter and Bill Evans and I tried my hand at it, but after months I gave up on writing a love song!  I made several attempts, but eventually I just put a new version of So This Is Love on the album More Than Another Day instead.

Q. So it wasn’t quite as easy as you thought…
A. Yeah, and it was disappointing too.  Well then this year, the first tune that came out was a love song, and it was much easier this time around, so I think I just needed to be patient. The title Nightingales & Fairy Tales is a reference to the amazing experiences in my marriage, and especially now, I’m extremely thankful to have a good relationship.

Q. Do you think the pandemic has altered your approach to composition?
A.  During this time I have been constantly thinking about the ability of jazz to uplift – that goes way back to ragtime – the beginning of jazz.  I’ve been listening to jazz a lot lately, and I decided to create music that could be a positive companion to this time.  I loved it when a fan who bought Transparent Sky said our music has become the “soundtrack to his life”.

Q. Nice!
A. Yeah.  So I guess that theme is most represented in Extraordinary Everyday Things - it’s about reminding ourselves there are as many good things in our world as there are challenges, and to remember to focus on what is good, and right and freely given - even at times like this.  My friend Rick always says Extra Ordinary instead of the word extraordinary – again it’s the idea that the simplest, most ordinary things can boost our spirits no matter what is going on in our lives, but we need to open our eyes to them.

Q. So will you be taking a break after this composing streak you’ve been on?
A. No - I’m already on to the next creative project!  I’ve always relied on creativity since I was a kid, and to me less travel means more time to create.  I spent years away from the piano after college doing other things – I was an art director, wrote a children’s book, was a fine art photographer, raised a family, built a home….but composing is my deep passion, and I’m always thankful to begin again on the next creative journey, and hopefully be back in the studio again with Luques and Rudy soon.

About Lisa Hilton:
Lisa Kristine Hilton is a distinctive composer of jazz, an acclaimed pianist, a bandleader and producer. Growing up in a small town on California’s central coast, she originally taught herself to play piano with a colored keyboard guide, writing her first simple songs around six years, before beginning studies in classical and twentieth century music starting at the age of eight. In college she switched majors from music, and graduated instead with a degree in art. This art background informs her musical creations: she describes “painting” compositions using improvisation, and harmony or “sculpting” with multiple rhythmic ideas from different cultures. Hilton’s music draws on classical traditions, and twentieth century modernists as well as classic American jazz greats such as Cole Porter, Thelonious Monk, and Horace Silver, as well as blues heroes Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. Hilton’s music annually tops the jazz charts and appears on popular shows such as Apple Music’s Pure Jazz Playlist. In the book, “The New Face of Jazz: An Intimate Look at Today’s Living Legends and Artists of Tomorrow” by Cicily Janus, it states that Hilton has been “compared to some of the best pianists in history.” Noting that the overwhelming majority of music performed in jazz clubs and concert halls today are of compositions written by male musicians, Hilton is outspoken about the importance of presenting, and listening, to music composed by women in these fields as well.

 

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December 2021
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