Jazz pianist/composer Lisa Hilton has been making music for almost 25 years. In that time, Hilton has released approximately 25 albums, with no more than one year between each record’s release since the release of her 1997 debut, Seduction. To say that 25 albums in less in 25 years is a lot of music is an understatement, but that is what Hilton has done. Today, Hilton is adding even more to her expansive catalog with the release of her 26th album, Transparent Sky. Released through her longtime label, Ruby Slippers Productions, the 10-song record is enjoyable, but imperfect. The most notable of the album’s aspects comes in the form of its musical arrangements. They will be discussed shortly. While the record’s musical arrangements does plenty to make the record successful, the lack of any background on the songs’ creation detracts from the presentation’s appeal at least to a point. It will be discussed a little later. The record’s sequencing rounds out its most important elements. It is another positive worth examining, and it will be examined, too. Each item noted is important in its own way to this record’s presentation. All things considered, they make the record a mostly successful presentation overall.
Lisa Hilton’s new album, Transparent Sky is a record that proves to be a mostly positive presentation. Its success comes in large part through its musical arrangements. The arrangements in question are divers throughout the album’s 38-minute run time, offering audiences something different in each composition. One of the most notable of the featured works comes early in the record’s run in the form of ‘Living in Limbo.’ This multi-rhythmic composition is centered around Hilton’s staccato style performance on the piano here. Drummer Rudy Royston keeps up solidly with Hilton here, adding ghost notes and accents in all of the right places as she switches back and forth between those shorter notes and more melodic passages.
By direct comparison, the far more subdued, gentle, flowing arrangement featured in ‘Extraordinary, Everyday Things’ is just as engaging even being so relaxed. What is really interesting here is the harmony established in the two-part piano line here. The secondary line that opens the song and continues at points throughout will sound quite familiar to audiences. It is lifted from a more well-known composition on which this critic cannot place a finger. Its consistency against the primary melody though, makes for such an interesting presentation, even as the song evolves into a slight bluesy feel. The whole is in such contrast to the arrangement featured in ‘Living in Limbo,’ but in such a wonderful, welcome fashion. It is just another example of why the musical arrangements featured in this album are so important to its presentation. ‘Chromatic Chronicles’ is yet another example of why the record’s musical arrangements are so important to its presentation.
The musical arrangement featured in ‘Chromatic Chronicles’ is another composition that really goes in different ways. The song’s title comes obviously through the chromatic steps that Hilton takes to form the song’s foundation. The redundancy of that approach against the song’s main melody and Royston’s steady time keeping to create a unique approach in itself here. The occasional break from that redundancy keeps the song interesting through its three minute-plus run time. The juxtaposition of the primary melody to the changes makes for so much interest in itself because it is so much unlike the other songs examined here and the rest of the album’s songs. Taking all of the featured arrangements into mind together, no doubt is left as to their diversity and importance. For all that they do to make this record appealing, the lack of any background on how the song’s came to be detracts from the album’s appeal to a point.
Looking through the packaging for Hilton’s new album, there is no information at all about the songs’ creation. Yes, there is some information in the liner notes about when and where the album was crafted. In regards to the songs though, there is nothing. That is disappointing because of how impressive each arrangement is in itself. Case in point is the arrangement featured, again, in ‘Life in Limbo.’ The song really does well to translate a sense of confusion, uncertainty, etc. However, having just the song’s title to reference, misinterpretation is very easy here. Was the song the result of the sense of confusion and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic? Was it inspired by some other life event that Hilton experienced? It just would have been nice to know so as to have a better, deeper understanding of the song.
Staying on that topic, the album’s opener, ‘Santa Monica Samba’ is a nice, light danceable arrangement that is…well…centered around a dance, the samba. So to that end, listeners are left to assume here that even with the arrangement exhibiting clear Latin influence, the bigger story is missing, again. Was this song inspired by Hilton dancing with someone along the Santa Barbara, CA coast? Was it something else? Again, the song in itself is so enjoyable, but having at least a little background would have helped increase the immersion into the song.
As if this is not enough proof, ‘Fall Upon A Miracle’ is another example of that need of the need for that background information. Considering the arrangement’s blend of blues and Latin leanings, the whole is an interesting presentation in its own right. The pairing gives the arrangement a certain unique swing of sorts. It would certainly have been nice to know how this arrangement came about, too, considering that. Taking this song and the others noted here into consideration along with everything else here, there is no doubt that the lack of any background information detracts from the album’s presentation at least to a point. That lack is not enough to doom the album by any means, but it certainly would have enhanced the listening experience.
Keeping in mind that the lack of background information is not enough to fail the album, there is at least one more positive to this presentation to note. That item is the record’s sequencing. It is important to note because it keeps the record moving fluidly from beginning to end. The rises and falls in the album’s energy are balanced expertly throughout. Case in point, the record opens on a high note and continues in such fashion, but then pulls back soon thereafter in ‘Nightingales & Fairy Tales.’ From there, the record’s energy rises just enough again in ‘Living in Limbo.’ Hilton and company’s cover of Billie Holliday’s ‘God Bless The Child’ pulls things back again, in turn keeping things interesting for listeners. From there on through the record’s second half sees its energy rise and fall just enough time and again, continuing to keep listeners engaged and entertained. The impact of that clearly thought out sequencing does just as much to make the album successful as its arrangements themselves. Even with the shortfall that is the lack of any background on the songs, those two elements alone make the album worth hearing.
Lisa Hilton’s new album, Transparent Sky is a mostly positive new offering from the veteran jazz pianist/composer. Its success is rooted primarily in its featured musical arrangements. The arrangements in question are diverse from one to the next, offering audiences much to appreciate just in that aspect. As much as the album’s musical content has to offer audiences, the lack of information on the songs notably detracts from the album’s appeal. It is not enough of an issue to make the album a failure, but it certainly would have enhanced the listening experience. To that end, the sequencing is not next logical item to examine. The sequencing takes into full account, the varied energies in each arrangement. That attention to detail ensures that the sequencing works with the arrangements to do just enough to make this record worth hearing. Keeping all of this in mind, Transparent Sky proves to be a mostly successful new offering from Lisa Hilton.
Transparent Sky is available now through Ruby Slippers Productions. More information on the album is available along with all of Lisa Hilton’s latest news at:
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