Joan Stiles, Hurly-Burly

Britt Robson

By Britt Robson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
A magnificent sextet lives up to expectations.

Better known as a Manhattan-based teacher and as an arranger (especially her work with the Mary Lou Williams catalogue) than as a pianist or vocalist, Stiles has assembled a magnificent sextet for her second disc. The front line is saxophonists Joel Frahm and Steve Wilson, plus trumpeter Jeremy Pelt; the rhythm section is bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash. You suspect the arranger will run amok with a title like “The Brilliant Corners of Thelonious'Jumpin'Jeep,” but the resulting Monk homage holds together beyond pastiche, thanks in part to Frahm's tight, incisive soloing. Better yet is the subtler treatment of the standard, “Jitterbug Waltz,” in which Stiles'innovative, right-hand-oriented accompaniment grooves and bumps against Wilson's lead sax line, helping to disrupt the dipsy-doodle melody into more discrete parts. One of the more compelling tunes is Stiles 'take on Jimmy Rowles '”The Peacocks,” which nails the simultaneous beauty and precious silliness of the species with the ostentatious languor of Frahm's extended notes. But what ultimately recommends Hurly-Burly is that these sublime sidemen live up to their high profiles, especially Pelt, whose robust tone always manages to imply that he's got more where that came from; and Nash, whose continually delightful and immaculate brushwork is elegantly restrained yet impossible to ignore.