There is something distinctly alluring about Lisa Hilton – both her piano playing and the music that she writes. It has (mostly) to do with the fact that she is a pure, original. Escapism gives truth to this ever so elegantly. There is absolutely no posturing in Miss Hilton’s playing, or to say that she comes from this branch of piano playing or that; for example: ‘like Chopin’ or ‘like Liszt’, for instance (to describe her introspective manner of playing , at once woven into the sudden piano pyrotechnics she is capable of all at once). Certainly there is no attempt to turn on feminine charm as some women-performers might and there is a tendency to bring to life the rhythmic persona of the piano (oftentimes to cast a welcome shadow on its harmonic one) – which is why she seems to be cut from the same cloth as, say, Thelonious Monk (as opposed to Herbie Nichols).
Above all Lisa Hilton has a magical ability to make her piano tell compelling stories. Certainly on Escapism her facility for make her instrument talk and sing and wear its emotions on its proverbial sleeve is immense and you can hear this almost immediately as the recording begins. There is so much drama in her playing that one finds oneself constantly at the edge of the seat – for instance as the forbidding darkness of “Hot Summer Samba” changes into something blindingly bright as the song progresses. Again, she articulates a kind of bittersweet, pathos in the Lerner/Lane song “On a Clear Day” as if vocally. And “Zero Gravity” a song written by her is thrillingly beautiful and so completely evocative of weightlessness that its melody – and mood – seems to come from deep within her own body rather than the belly of the piano. And these are hardly stray instances on this all-too-short album.
In pianism Lisa Hilton seems to be able to make her instrument a living, breathing thing. Notes on the bass clef leap into the air and then sink low as if they were being voiced by a mature bass vocalist and her right hand often thrills in its replication of much coloratura in the melismatic adventures of a living contralto, or mezzo-soprano before soaring, in one of her vaunted arpeggios, like a soprano in full flight. This is something that gives Miss Hilton’s music a unique character; it seems that her stories a dramatic reality and seems to people them with flesh and blood characters in natural settings (such as those we hear in passionate embrace in “Mojave Moon” or as in “29 Palms” that seem to sway before your eyes in that song).
She does all of these things and more thanks to bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston who have been by her side on her sonic journeys for a very long time. The prodigiously talented tenor saxophonist JD Allen and trumpeter Terell Stafford (another incredible musician) turn the five songs on which they perform into a memorable experience as they weave a multitude of textures and natural colours into the fabric of Miss Hilton’s unique music on Escapism, an album to absolutely die for.
Track list – 1: Hot Summer Samba; 2: Meltdown; 3: Another Everyday Adventure; 4: Too Hot; 5: On a Clear Day; 6: Mojave Moon; 7: Zero Gravity; 8: Escape Velocity Blues; 9: 29 Palms; 10: Utopia Cornucopia
Personnel – Lisa Hilton: piano; Gregg August: bass; Rudy Royston: drums; JD Allen: tenor saxophone (1, 4, 6, 7, & 10); Terell Stafford: trumpet (1, 4, 6, 7, & 10)
Released – 2017
Label – Ruby Slippers Productions
Runtime – 39:07