Lisa Hilton’s critically acclaimed new album “Chalkboard Destiny” came out late in 2019. The record is a collaboration between herself on piano, JD Allen on tenor sax, Rudy Roysten on drums and Luques Curtis on bass. The combo, which feels more and more like a conversation with each track, features persistent percussive beats and free-flowing melodies, interrupted only by Allen’s standout sax solos.
The album begins with an anxious, driving melody in “Rush Hour Rhapsody,” a track that is as catchy as it is dissonant. The rhapsody’s drumline is quick, and Hilton’s piano part is just fast enough to catch up, allowing for an undeniable rush hour atmosphere. From the start, “Chalkboard Destiny” feels like it has a destination, and a purpose.
This aspect of the album sets it apart from some of Hilton’s earlier work — just look at her 2018 album “Oasis” for proof. Tracks on that album include “Just For Fun,” an aimless, “fun,” exploration of the keyboard’s range. Other titles, like “Lazy Daisy” and “Adventure Lands,” convey the same message of freedom — “Oasis.”
“Chalkboard Destiny,” according to Hilton, is also about freedom, but from a future-driven lens. “The concept behind Chalkboard Destiny is the idea that our future, our destiny, can be continually reshaped,” according to Hilton’s website, “implying that we are not beholden by history or traditional myths, allowing us a freedom in creation.”
Some tracks on the album have the same strict, fast-moving feel as “Rush Rhapsody.” “Tropic of Tango” relies on an addictive rhythm, quick ascending and descending piano passages and dreamy melodies, all while Roysten’s drums keep up the pace. In many ways, “Myths and Fantasy,” two tracks after the tango, feels like a continuation. The steady rhythm remains the driving force, and although the style does change — some of the dreaminess is sacrificed for a more intense mood — the destiny-focused energy remains.
Other tracks lose the determined speed of the tangos and opening number. “Temporary Lullaby” gets rid of the sax focus of earlier tracks on the album in favor of a keyboard-centric ballad. The lullaby is lush, reflective, and contains intricate middle piano lines that give the track fugue-like energy. In an album where the sax solos provide exciting variety to the music, having moments like “Temporary Lullaby” to simply be absorbed by Hilton’s piano melodies is important.
Some tracks simply don’t fit in, but are all the more exciting. The title track, “Chalkboard Destiny,” features a percussive click (chalkboard?) that makes it unique. The piano motif that continues throughout the track is also dynamic and jumpy. It was one of my favorites, and felt relatively loose compared to the other tracks — tempo-wise, it was all over the place, and it truly conveys a sense of free destiny.
The variety of Hilton’s album is really what makes it thrive. The tracks do feel like a journey, and having four talented musicians means that visiting new stylistic realms for each number is easy. Simultaneously dreamy and driven, “Chalkboard Destiny” is a must-listen for your quarantine days.