What's in a name? Quite a bit when it comes to the handle of composer and pianist Cynthia Hilts’s intriguing octet, Lyric Fury. As the name suggests, her writing is defined by powerful contrasts. She likes to build from long, meditative passages to explosive endings. The tried and true technique of tension (and more tension) and release seldom yields more satisfaction or surprise.
But as witness the brisk, striking originals on Lyric Fury, Hilts’s captivating new album, her orchestrations can go in different directions (and different keys) in the same moment, within the same beat or phrase. Imagine, if you will, a peaceful waltz through the meadow and a frantic run through a thunderstorm happening at the same time. Her music can fill the senses even as it swings like crazy.
Together for several years, Lyric Fury boasts a lineup of top-drawer players with highly distinctive “A” games of their own. They include trumpet great and onetime Mingusite Jack Walrath, saxophonists Lisa Parrott and Lily White, trombonist Deborah Weisz, cellist Leigh Stuart, bassist Ratzo Harris, and drummer Scott Neumann.
“When I first put the band together, I didn’t know most of the musicians,” confesses Hilts. “But I got really good at cold calling—hey, how would you like to work in a band that sounds like a celestial collision of Mingus and Debussy?”
Over time, the members of Lyric Fury not only bought into Hilts’s demanding avant-meets-mainstream strategies, they found ways to enhance them. “My pieces are difficult, even the stuff I think is easy,” said Hilts, “and I can get a little tyrannical in getting people to do what I want.” But in the best sense, these musicians gave as good as they got.