Joan Stiles: Love Call (2004)
A genre not too often reiterated: songbook rephrasings with a tightly arranged ensemble in various appearances. Although pianist and arranger Joan Stiles is by all means a fine and thoughtful player, it is in the underrated art of writing and conducting horn charts for small ensembles, that Love Call really shines.
She makes expert use of either wide or narrow voicings both consonant and dissonant. With only a few players Stiles creates an old-style bigbandish thickness, or an openness usually described as "modern" or "atmospheric". If we take two of the ballads for example, than "My Man's Gone Now" is an example of the first, while "When I Fall in Love" is an example of the latter. All this is achieved in a manner impressive by its off-the-cuff craftiness.
Love Call is full of nifty little tricks. The one original "Spherical" is a standard blues that sports a harmonic idea in its opening statement that is like cursing in church, and gets away with it. Its theme is suggested through expert voice-crossing, rather than spelling it out in the top voice. The harmonies of "When I fall in love" are not in itself that dissonant, but make that impression through suggesting dissonant reharmonising.
The required expert intonation, and subtleties of ensemble dynamics, are a result of careful conducting, as well as the matter-of-factly ease and cocncentration of professionals like Warren Vache, Frank Wess or anybody else on the CD, to whom the adjective "seasoned" is an understatement. The excellent live-to-2-track recording renders a sound both tight and detailed.
As a whole the arrangements reminded me of Oliver Nelson, especially in his small ensemble-work with Eric Dolphy. Stiles' piano stylings too, betray a knowledge reaching into the outer corners of the traditional craft of harmony on the brink of "breaking out." Hinting at amongst others Maurice Ravel, Ran Blake comes to mind.
It is in a way a pitiful, that a record so genuinely and knowingly versed in the tradition, these days is deemed to be harmonically "modern," when in effect the devices are about 50 and 100 years old, in jazz and classical music respectively.
As a stylistic statement, the CD looses some momentum by being, especially in the leader's playing, somewhat overly eclectic. But as a celebration of craft and command it is a marvelous debut by a dyed-in-the-wool arranger, player and conductor, that sustains many repeated listenings.
Instead of grand gestures and big words, the creativity of Love Call hints at a somewhat more modest, but maybe more sympathetic goal: the point of the much abused cliché that it is about the music, for once is made. In the spirit of honesty and understatement, Love Call is decked out with great attention to detail by players, arranger, and recording engineer alike. Please more high-quality stuff like this.
Track Listing: Spherical; When I fall in love; Daahoud; Creole love call; Surrey with the fringe on top; Tea for two; Blood count; Take the "A" train; I've never been in love before; My man's gone now; Almost like being in love.
Personnel: Joan Stiles (p,arr); Frank Wess (ts); Clark Terry (tp,fh); Jerry Dodfgion (as,ss); Joe Temperley (bs,bc); Warren Vache (tp); Benny Powell, Wayne Goodman (tb); John Webber (b); Gregory Hutchinson (d).