On the front cover of 2012’s ‘Portraits,’ Shamie Royston peers through a sheer curtain, as if watching an event from afar. Kinda makes sense. The skilled pianist is recognized as an educator as much as she is a bandleader. A Colorado native who enjoyed regional acclaim on the Denver scene before moving East as her opportunities (as well as those of her husband Rudy Royston) broadened, her name recognition isn’t commensurate with her broad range of skills. That might change. ‘Beautiful Liar”s liner photo finds her front and center, ready for her close-up, and the music itself parallels that stance. Mainstream post-bop with thoughtful interaction and a deep sense of poise, it swings hard and breathes easy.
An indication of her quintet’s confidence marks the aptly titled “Push.” The group’s volition is front and center, with the rhythm section igniting audacious solos from trumpeter Josh Evans, saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, and the pianist herself. Like the best moments by Wynton Marsalis’s early fivesome, it’s a parade of pithy broadcasts with a devotion to standard structural templates and consummate legibility – a fierce mix when done right. Similar aggression marks “Dissimulate,” except the groove on the latter boasts a more jovial vibe, with hints of horn polyphony frothing above a wisely punctuated bottom.
A yin/yang POV boosts the program’s breadth. Turns out Royston waxes soothing as convincingly as she throws punches. There’s a spirited calm to the design of “Precious Lullaby,” a pastoral vibe to the cascading horn lines of ‘Uplifted Heart” and a balm to the band’s update of Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day.” There’s a bit of church in her soul stance as well, and those bluesy intimations, along with a dash of simmering fervor, boosts her ballad game. Whether waxing gentle or stormy, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Royston shift gears with a supple coordination that gives the leader’s pieces the oomph they deserve to have a shot at becoming memorable.