Cynthia Hilts

Stars Down to the Ground

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Cynthia Hilts came from New York for a year's stay as artist in residence at the Montana Artists Refuge. This album captures music she wrote while working and living in the Big Sky State. Her compositions embrace a wide range of styles including jazz, funk, folk and new age music used in varying harmonic settings -- feelings of joy, melancholy, and humor. When in New York, Hilts formed the Lyric Fury Ensemble to play her original compositions, which were mostly avant-garde in structure. Hilts plays piano on all and sings on most tracks. She pokes fun at modern music on "Faith and the Mash," where Faith is admonished not to play the piano in "clumps" but "play us a sweet melody." The music matches the words as the piano alternates between discordant and sweet chords. It all ends in a tumult of sound, leaving one to conclude that Faith likes playing in clumps. There's more humor in "A Heifer on Capitalist Ave.," narrating a cow's reactions to its first visit to the Big Apple's Fifth Ave. The performance of the title tune, which features the probing lyrical guitar of Ben White, is very deliberate. Funk arrives with a "Porch Tune," as White's guitar turns smeary and M.J. Williams chips in with both Jack Teagarden-like trombone and backup vocals. "Greengrass Forest" is the stage for an intense encounter between Hilts' jagged pianism, Brad Edwards' lyrical drumming, and Williams' contemporary trombone counterbalanced by White's straight-ahead guitar, making it one of the album's more engaging tracks. If Montana's clean, fresh air and wide-open spaces inspires Hilts, as it obviously did, more urban jazz musicians should "Go West." The lyrics are printed in the liner notes of this recommended album.

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