If you’re unfamiliar with New York-based jazz artist Cynthia Hilts, you might assume that she’s just one of many conventional female vocalists active on the current music scene. But if you listen to her new album, Second Story Breeze, now out on the Blond Coyote label, you’ll discover that she’s something special.
Hilts is a skillful pianist and a prolific composer – most of the pieces on the album were written by her – and a singer with an unusual singing style. Sometimes she uses her ethereal voice in conventional ways, but she also occasionally ventures into new territory with melodic vocal riffs. The total package is one very talented lady.
She has an extensive musical background that includes many years of formal training combined with real world experience. Although she’s originally from Arizona, she’s spent the last decade and a half working from the New York area.
She’s accompanied on this album by bassist Ron McClure and drummer Jeff Williams, and both instrumentalists get some chances to take the spotlight too. There are long stretches – even entire tracks – that are purely instrumental, including “Bunny” and an old song given a new treatment, “Three Blind Mice.” (Yes, that one.)
Hilts has included a couple of standards, one of those an extended rendition of “Love For Sale” that wanders a little but still shows the singer’s vocal skills. Also included is “My Favorite Things,” which is loosely based on the original but is a world away from the Julie Andrews style.
My favorite here was probably “Living It Up,” one of Hilts’ own compositions. It’s a piece that allows her to sing in a couple of different styles, while also giving all three instrumentalists some time to pour out some good sounds — and isn’t that what it’s all about?