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Pianist Shamie Royston Brings A Hard-Swinging Brand Of Jazz To 'Beautiful Liar'

Jun 13, 2018
Originally published on June 19, 2018 1:33 pm
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Our jazz critic, Kevin Whitehead, has a review of a new album by composer and pianist Shamie Royston. She came up in Denver where she played with, among others, her sister, saxophonist Tia Fuller, and trumpet player Ron Miles. Now Royston lives near New York. Her new album is for five players. Kevin likes the way she writes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHAMIE ROYSTON SONG)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Pianist Shamie Royston's quintet, with Josh Evans on spitfire trumpet. It's from Royston's new disc, "Beautiful Liar," heavy on the straight-ahead, tuneful, hard-swinging brand of jazz that's always in style. So many fine musicians mine that grand tradition, it can be hard to make your mark. Having a great, well-drilled band always helps, but Royston's composing really stamps her music. Behind the melody on "A Tangled Web We Weave," she punctuates a quick chord sequence with a peekaboo piano figure she bounces between two octaves - a minor adjustment that's somehow just right.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHAMIE ROYSTON'S "A TANGLED WEB WE WEAVE")

WHITEHEAD: Pianist Shamie Royston and drummer Rudy Royston go back a ways and have played some trio gigs with bassist Yasushi Nakamura, who'd just been on the road with Rudy. So they all lock up tight. The composer's music is sleek and sturdy - made to be played with improvisation-friendly melodies and episodes that plausibly follow one from another. The saxophonist is Jaleel Shaw - here on soprano.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHAMIE ROYSTON'S "BEAUTIFUL LIAR")

WHITEHEAD: Shamie Royston is a trained composer who knows how to manipulate her materials all sorts of ways. Early on her tune "Beautiful Liar," the most active melody is in the bass under a slow horn line. Before long, she moves that slow line to the bottom under faster horns - a subtle role reversal executed with no loss of momentum. Such moves make for unity and variety.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHAMIE ROYSTON'S "BEAUTIFUL LIAR")

WHITEHEAD: Royston leaves plenty of room for her soloist to explore her tunes and work their personal variations. The pianist's own solos may betray her compositional thinking. On her tune "Dissimulate," Shamie Royston plays rhythmic variations on a descending pattern she sneaks up on.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHAMIE ROYSTON'S "DISSIMULATE")

WHITEHEAD: Shamie Royston's CD "Beautiful Liar" also includes a cover of a '70s pop tune she could just about play with one finger - "Lovely Day" by Bill Withers. But her own material is stronger. Her catchy melodies give the musicians more to dig into, with implications they can tease out on their own terms. That's one reason her music's so appealing. It sounds like fun to play.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHAMIE ROYSTON'S "DISSIMULATE")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure. He reviewed "Beautiful Liar," the new album by composer and pianist Shamie Royston on the Sunnyside label. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we listen back to our interviews with feminist Jill Ker Conway, the first woman president of Smith College. She died earlier this month. Her three acclaimed memoirs include "The Road From Coorain" about growing up on an Australian sheep farm where she learned women could do the same work as men. She said sex-role stereotyping has hurt men as much as women. I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR'S executive producer is Danny Miller. Our engineer today is Adam Stanishevsky (ph). Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BRETT GOLD NEW YORK JAZZ ORCHESTRA'S "LULLABY FOR LILY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.