If few listeners knew that Shamie Royston existed somewhere in Jazz, fewer still knew that she was a prodigious composer as well. The timing of the release of Beautiful Liar is fortuitous indeed and a re-introduction to Miss Royston’s elegant music. Truth be told, Miss Royston had already established her credentials in groups led by Terri Lyne Carrington, Tia Fuller (her sister), Sean Jones and Ralph Peterson among others, and she had already debuted (some of) her music on Portraits (2012). But Beautiful Liar is a major step for Miss Royston especially as a composer, leading her own band and producing a ten-song album of which nine are originals.
Right from the dreamy opening of “Sunday Nostalgia”, Miss Royston establishes herself as a songwriter who is ready to break with the norm, developing a musical language which combines the hypnotic textures of a jazzy minimalism and a rhythmic dynamism combined with mathematical structures all of which she packages in sublime miniatures that can best be described as music that also advances the poetry of feeling. This precludes the fact that clearly Miss Royston is a musician who has gained a gravitas that seems to come first from the pulpit of the Black Gospel tradition even before it is melded into the secular Jazz tradition.
Not only are her titles of her songs loaded with meaning but they also unfold in quiet explosions of fervently burning music. Musical development comprises of profoundly meditative melodic lines that are sometimes annunciated by the genteel phraseology such as in the elegiac pianism of “Precious Lullaby” both in the full version as well as – poignantly so – in the final “outro” that closes the recording. But, of course, she announces her spiritual pianistic intentions long before that – on “Sunday Nostalgia”, for instance, as she lures the saxophone of Jaleel Shaw into an introspective dialogue as the song develops. She does magical things elsewhere to beguile the trumpeter Josh Evans.
All this is manifest while bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Rudy Royston not only hold up the time-keeping side of the business, but also weave their own singular and elaborate rhythmic webs that lure the melody playing and harmonising musicians first in perfect ensemble playing as well as releasing them into solo flights that give this music its enduring character. Naturally Miss Royston provides this space for the soloing horns egging them on when necessary and pulling them back into orbit when their time is up, with the exquisite control of her quietly commanding pianism. Everyone’s playing on this almost hour-long CD, the music of which makes huge demands on the performers, is both exciting and technically superb.
Track list – 1: Sunday Nostalgia; 2: Push; 3: Beautiful Liar; 4: Precious Lullaby; 5: Dissimulate; 6: Lovely Day; 7: Circulo Vicioso; 8: Uplifted Heart; 9: A Tangled Web We Weave; 10: Precious Lullaby (Outro)
Personnel – Jaleel Shaw: alto and soprano saxophones; Josh Evans: trumpet; Shamie Royston: piano; Yasushi Nakamura: bass; Rudy Royston: drums
Released – 2018
Label – Sunnyside Records (SSC 1510)
Runtime – 52:22