Underground - Lisa Hilton (Ruby Slippers Productions) - This is Ms. Hilton's 15th release and the first I have encountered. She is a facile pianist who rarely uses technique as a substitute for substance. With the rhythm section of Nasheet Waits (drums) and Larry Grenadier (bass) as well as the ruminative tenor saxophone of J. D. Allen, this is a program steeped in the blues, with intelligent interplay. At times, the manner in which the quartet interacts is reminiscent of Keith Jarrett's group with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian.
The title track starts as if unraveling, short, sharp, sounds, then Ms. Hilton settles into a riff that seems influenced by the Spanish tinge of Jelly Roll Morton but there's a urgent quality to the group interactions. "Boston + Blues" has a sweet, smoky, melody delivered by Allen and the pianist, whose work here echoes the sounds of Art Hodes, Otis Spann and, at times, Professor Longhair (but never in a way that suggests imitation.) There is a not-so- subtle reference to Beethoven's "Fur Elise" during the piano solo. New Orleans piano also informs "Jack & Jill", a cut that features excellent support from Waits and his variations on "parade drumming." There's an Erik Satie to the interpretation of Bill Evans' "B Minor Waltz" - not as ornate as the original but gentle, open, with interactions that are playful yet always musical.
Allen stays in control, playing with a tenderness one does not always hear in his Trio settings. That's not to say the solo he plays on "Someday, Somehow, Soon" is weak - no, it's thoughtful, with longer tones and short phrases repeated like prayer lines. (On the "extended take" that ends the CD, Ms. Hilton sweeping piano flourishes bring to mind the harp work of Alice Coltrane.) The saxophonist "opens up" a bit more on "Blue Truth" yet there are fleeting moments when his whisper-like tones draw one closer to the sound, if only to make sure you're sure that you hear his phrases.
The support from Grenadier's simple yet powerful lines is excellent throughout. The way he maneuvers beneath Ms. Hilton's finely etched left hand-lines on "Come & Go" is ripe with melodic possibilities and frees up Waits to create dynamic percussive variation.
"Underground" is music for the times when one wants to get away from the hustle and bustle. "Escapist music"? Perhaps, but better described as a creative panacea to the harsh and strident sounds that attack one on a daily basis. For more information, go to www.lisahiltonmusic.com.