Pianist, composer, bandleader and occasional vocalist Joan Stiles's terrific Hurly-Burly shows her skill at arranging, as well as being an ambitious tribute to her pianistic heroes. Here's hoping that it works this time, as her debut recording Love Calls (Zoho, 2004), which included a most impressive cast of Clark Terry, Frank Wess, Warren Vache, Benny Powell and Joe Temperley was held in the can for six years until Zoho finally released it.
Hurly-Burly's thematic concept is to perform compositions by Stiles' piano influences, with the title paying tribute to Mary Lou Williams, whose maiden name was "Hurly. The opening track, "The Brilliant Corners of Thelonious' Jumpin' Jeep" is more than a humorous riff on Monk and Ellington; Stiles actually plays portions of Monk's "Brilliant Corners against Johnny Hodges' "The Jeep is Jumpin' ," as well as Monk's "Thelonious. One theme is played off against the other in counterpoint and the whole thing really works.
"Jitterbug Waltz," by Fats Waller, retains the playfulness of the original. Stiles pays homage to two Mary Lou Williams compositionsfirst, the bebop "Hurly-Burly (J2 Mary Lou), and then a new take on Williams' almost unknown "Knowledge.
Other pianists are acknowledged, including Jimmy Rowles and his classic, "The Peacocks," which Stiles performs in a quartet setting. There is more Ellington on a very fast-paced "All Too Soon," with a piano trio, while Monk's classic, "'Round Midnight," is given a very sensitive solo reading. Stiles provides some amusement with her vocal on Mary Lou Williams' bebop tune, "In the Land of Oo-Bla-De," where she archly delivers the lyrics almost as a spoof of the original. She also sings on the Ray Charles-associated "What Would I Do Without You?," from his Atlantic period, in duet with altoist Steve Wilson.
Just as Stiles did a few years earlier, she's assembled a stellar group featuring Wilson, whose solos on "Jitterbug Waltz" and "Bluesicity" are standouts. Tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm also provides his characteristic support and solo work on "What Would I Do Without You?" Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, a strong New York presence, is an invaluable player and well serves an unusual trio version of Monk's "Pannonica," with Stiles and drummer Lewis Nash who, alongside bassist Peter Washington, provides the pulse throughout the album.
Personnel: Joan Stiles: vocals, piano; Lewis Nash: drums; Peter Washington: bass; Steve Wilson: alto saxophone; Jeremy Pelt: trumpet, flugelhorn; Joel Frahm: tenor saxophone.