Posted on December 7, 2012.
Review and Photos By: Caleb Hsu
Distinctive composer and progressive jazz pianist Lisa Hilton is no stranger to the Berklee scene. In 2011, she made her first appearance on campus visiting Berklee’s Adaptive Music Technology Lab for visually impaired students. Lisa has been a dedicated supporter of music programs for the visually challenged such as Perkins School for the Blind near Boston, and has consistently involved herself in various benefit concerts and fine arts programs for young children and teens. She maintains a balance between giving highly effective performances and inspiring young musicians to follow their dreams.
Lisa invited Noé and Charlie to be the combined opening act of her performance. Noé, a visually impaired Berklee senior guitarist, performed alongside Lisa just over a year ago on the same stage. Charlie, a Berklee junior singer/songwriter and YouTube sensation, claimed fame through winning Perez Hilton’s online Cover Competition. Earlier this year, both Charlie and Noé hosted their own shows under the shadowy glow of Café 939′s Red Room, the intimate venue of choice for Berklee students and local/visiting artists.
To start off, Charlie and Noé opened the night with a warm arrangement of Pet Metheny’s classic, “James.” There was an undeniable natural connection between the two, both effectively communicating musical subtleties using heightened auditory sensitivity to compensate for lacking visual references. Together, they exhibited a perpetual awareness and acute mutual understanding of each other’s musical ideas: mirroring phrasing, rhythmical sense, and overall flow. There were moments throughout where it seemed as though the strings of the piano extended directly to that of the guitar, allowing for a continuous motion of sound and seamless transfer of dynamics from one instrument to the next. Charlie and Noé effectively aligned their separate musical ideas into a single coherent performance. This was especially impressive when Charlie admitted that they had “just rehearsed the other day.”
The two continued with Bill Evan’s “Emily.” Here, a great deal of attention was paid to playing with finesse and genuine emotion. Charlie’s delicate and responsive touch paid tribute to his years of studying jazz piano at the Manhattan School of Music prior to attending Berklee, while Noé’s finger-picking technique exemplified the full-bodied round tone of a truly distinguished guitarist.
The final tune of the opening performance was a blues inspired song with a contemporary addition of none other than beat-boxing. Noé’s harmonica neck holder came into play simultaneously with his strongly rhythmic guitar accents to create a true homey Chicago blues feel. Charlie’s unique voice added an appropriate adaptation to this blues style with subtle breathiness and sparse appearances of raspiness while maintaining a pure steady tone. Also surprising was Charlie’s admission that, “[he] had only begun singing within the past year or so.” Charlie told me he honestly “didn’t know why people would ever want to listen to [his] voice.” I think it’s because his voice is different and different is refreshing when it’s effective. Both Charlie and Noé were extremely effective in delivering a sparkling introduction into the night of evocative jazz.
Maintaining the lingering blues vibe, Lisa seamlessly transitioned into one of her newer compositions “Get Away” from her album, Seduction. She began by looking directly into the audience with a pensive stare that grabbed everyone’s attention. Shortly thereafter, she established a repetitive ostinato pattern in her left hand which lulled me into following the soundscape journey she created. Her unprecedented ability to captivate the audience paired with her use of fluid right hand syncopations against steady unwavering bass lines left everyone in the room wanting more.
Lisa continued the blues theme with her single, “Seduction.” There was an immediate and seemingly subconscious mental transition into a much more intimate emotion as she closed her eyes and drifted into a poignant performance. Each note she played, whether pointed high notes or static block chords in the lower register, struck me, fully compelling me to eagerly anticipate what followed. Each isolated note was played with such conviction that you could sense the raw emotional energy pulling you through the downward spiraling journey of cascading blues scales. Lisa remarked that she began writing “Seduction” when she was just 15 “ picking away at the keys” until she discovered what she was playing were blues scales.
Between pairs of tunes, Lisa briefly discussed both her compositional inspirations and upcoming solo debut and album releases. Lisa’s most recent album, American Impressions, was born out of her desire to “communicate creativity and connect [with her fans].” She shared her notion that “art and music are the first social networks” and provide the framework for sharing creativity through familiarity.
At this point, the night transitioned into an ethereal and spiritual experience. “When It Rains” embodied this with an “under-the-lid” distant ambiance which expanded the aural dimensions of the room. It facilitated a tenuous sense of floating embers drifting in the wind. As the piece progressed, Lisa created pictorial cinematic landscapes through layered textures of artfully placed syncopated melodies. I loved how this composition created such a believable sense of an open space through vast sweeping flourishes. Following an almost undetectable abbreviated pause, Lisa began the equally emotionally provocative “Waterfall.” This tune was essentially an extended metaphor of the ebb and flow of life depicted by the “dribbles and drops of a waterfall,” as Lisa later explained.
A few tunes after, my favorite of the night, “This Is Love,” was performed. Lisa described this elegant virtuosic work as following the traditional compositional form of the classics, but maintained that it was “not a classic.” Indeed, she brought her unmistakably unique stylistic nuances into the standard of classic jazz melodies. There was a silent understanding of the unwavering mental and spiritual devotion Lisa focused on entirely during all of her performances, but especially during this song. Her stage presence and fearless vulnerability wholeheartedly enveloped the room.
Lisa closed the night with “Jack and Jill,” a playful piece wonderfully coupling a mix of Gershwin and her own compositional devices into something organic and new yet sweetly antiquated. The most memorable section of this tune was ironically the most simplistic of the entire night. Lisa stripped down the melodic phrases to a bleak steady chord motion in her isolated left hand while conducting with her right hand. Somehow, the melody continued to be heard (i.e. envisioned) with all its complexities and forward motion despite lacking anything more than lone offbeats.
This night redefined my perception of an effective performance. Live music is not merely about reiterating or restating what you rehearsed. Rather, it’s about self: expression, realization, exploration, and introspection. It’s about feeling over being. Lisa, Charlie, and Noé all offered their own unique contributions toward the effectiveness of the show, and left me with the inspiration that with passionate dedication, anyone can utilize creativity and talent to communicate effectively.