One perk of writing this column is gleaning hard-won wisdom from musicians. While interviewing Dawn Clement, I followed rule #61 for questioning jazz pianists and asked the standard-issue "Who are your favorite piano players?" After reciting a connoisseur's list that included Duke Ellington ("solo or with a trio"), Ahmad Jamal, Andrew Hill, Lennie Tristano, and Mal Waldron, Clement paused and stated, "My favorite pianists are those who have a ton of chops but use their skill musically, not just for the sake of technique. As a pianist all you need is the facility to play what you want to play."

Clement is modest both about her own prodigious technique and her marvelous new album, Hush (Conduit Records). From the cloudy, gospel-inflected opening chords of "Early Morning Rose" to the loping strut of "Big Fat Blues," Hush showcases Clement's ability to serve as a sensitive and alert accompanist, as well as her willingness to blaze ahead and take the tune someplace new. Particularly striking is the album's centerpiece, "Tension Tamer." This 10-minute track has oblique--and at times obstreperous--detours that at first disrupt and ultimately determine the flow of the tune. Not content to write songs for soloists to blow for 16 bars, Clement composes pieces that have a well-hewn grace.

I was also taken with Hush's lone vocal track, a cover of Tom Waits' "Midnight Lullaby." Clement's spare, almost shivering voice distills the essence of the song. She wasn't sure if she'd sing at this gig, but Clement will be joined by the musicians who helped make Hush such a fine listen: flutist and saxophonist Hans Teuber, bassist Geoff Cooke, and drummer Jose Martinez. CHRISTOPHER DeLAURENTI

Dawn Clement performs Fri Sept 26 at 8 pm (PONCHO Concert Hall at Cornish, 710 E Roy St, 325-6500), $6/$12.

chris@delaurenti.net

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