Cynthia Hilts

Second Story Breeze

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At first blush, Cynthia Hilts is one of many first floor jazz singers, which should be good enough for most. But upon further examination, and a second or third listening, multiple layers of her personality are revealed, especially considering her excellent piano playing and compositional prowess. Teamed with the extraordinary rhythm team of bassist Ron McClure and drummer Jeff Williams, Hilts and her trio lift this music higher and higher as the program moves along. She's blessed with a voice that is more artistic à la Patricia Barber than singsongy, while her piano musings share stylistic phrasings with Bill Evans, her avowed influence Richie Beirach, and to a certain extent Chick Corea or Keith Jarrett. The more you listen to her deeply skilled and soulful keyboard patterns, the more they can be appreciated. Only three standards are here, including a ten-and-a half-minute "Love for Sale" with its nonchalant emotion and craggy arrangement plus a light swing on the second chorus, the interpolated "My Favorite Things" where Hilts sings behind the beat and space is as important as the notes, and the fun filled "Three Blind Mice," a scurrying, bouncy, playful instrumental. "Bunny" is the standout instrumental original -- please listen to it over and over to fully appreciate her inventiveness within a frame work -- as Hilts trail hops in Corea's style while putting her own sound out there. A slinky tune, "Living It Up" has Hilts vocally listing her truly favorite things as the simple things. Her enunciation is as understated as the crystal blue modal colors of her piano during "The Fading Blue," where she is surrounded by shades of ancient lavender and lilac. Hilts bookends the album with waltzing wispy wordless vocals that bring out her siren side, as the title track exudes happy serenity -- a little Sheila Jordan, a little Jay Clayton. "Waiting" concludes the date as she perfectly exudes a tone of impatience and anticipation, singing dum-dum-dum time wasting phrases as the inexorable minutes slide by. McClure is always top-notch, and gets sufficient solo space, while Williams is reliable as any drummer in modern jazz. Whether riffing on made up improvisations or calling out to the gods for affirmation, Cynthia Hilts is conjuring unique music in her mind, and executing it in enjoyable ways that marks her an original set apart from many other cookie cutter musicians. If Second Story Breeze is any indication, she's quickly heading to the penthouse, and thus this recording comes highly recommended.

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