The Girls In The Band
Review by Willard Manus

They’re women, not girls, of course. And they certainly are putting out some noteworthy albums these days. Here are just a few that have come my way.

KALEIDOSCOPE. Lisa K. Hilton shows off her wide range as pianist and composer on this new release. Of the eleven tracks, she has written all but two, in a variety of styles, everything from retro grooves to boogie-woogie to straight-ahead ballads. At all times her music catches you up in its warmth and power, its deeply felt probings and explorations. Same goes for her playing. Working with bassist Larry Grenadier, drummer Marcus Gilmore and tenorman J.D. Allen, Hilton shows off her impressive keyboard knowledge and prowess. It’s no wonder that such jazz luminaries as Christian McBride and Steve Wilson have been eager to work with her. (Ruby Slippers Productions;

NICOLE MITCHELL’S ICE CRYSTAL. Winner of Downbeat’s 2012 top flutist award, plus many other official accolades, Nicole Mitchell is a modern-jazz stalwart. Her instrumental and compositional gifts are much on display in ICE CRYSTAL, her latest album on Delmark. Working with vibest Jason Adasiewicz–-like her, a Chicago-based musician-–Mitchell infuses ten of her originals with much warm, lyricism and beauty.

Backed by Frank Rosaly on drums and Joshua Abrams on bass, Mitchell’s interplay with the vibraphone has many magical moments. Equally wondrous is her heartfelt tribute–spoken by Calvin Gantt–to the venerable Chicago jazzman and teacher, Fred Anderson. ( or

HABITAT–CHRISTINE JENSEN JAZZ ORCHESTRA. Jensen’s second album highlights her big-band work as saxophonist and composer. For this Justin Time release, Jensen wrote six long works which were recorded last year at Studio Piccolo in Montreal by her “family” of musicians, many of whom were classmates at McGill University.

Jensen’s compositions are built around site-specific themes. “Treelines,” for example, evokes the wild beauty of the California coastline. “Intersection” has a more urban, swinging feel, depicting as it does the diversity of Montreal’s best-known street, The Main. “Nishiyu” takes off in a whole other direction, exploring a political theme (the fight of the Cree People to preserve their native land and culture).

Everything Jensen writes has a fresh and vibrant sound to it, which is undoubtedly why she is much in demand as a composer. She also helps her cause by writing scintillating passages for her trumpet-playing sister, Ingrid. And on “Sweet Adelphi,” she trades her baton for the soprano sax, on which she solos extensively and movingly. ( or