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Back with her own unique take on the piano's place in jazz, the aptly named Joan "mistress of many Stiles presents a session with myriad influences in a variety of formats with her sophomore effort, Hurly-Burly. Her first release, Love Call (ZoHo, 2004), was a breath of fresh air that more than hinted at clever arranging skills combined with an ability to interpret and present the "classics" on her own terms. Hurly-Burly makes good on that promise and is evidence that Stiles has a unique musical voice that doesn't sacrifice accessibility for originality.
With a band full of leaders in their own right, boasting a rhythm section composed of bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash, and a three-horn frontline featuring trumpeter/flugelhornist Jeremy Pelt, Steve Wilson on alto and Joel Frahm on tenor, Stiles is able to get fairly complex this time around. She cooks up some very intriguing creations such as "The Brilliant Corners of Thelonious' Jumpin' Jeep," which has the full sextet weaving together three disparate tunes from Monk, Ellington and Johnny Hodges into a wonderfully up-tempo swinger. Other compositions by pianists as diverse as Fats Waller, Mary Lou Williams ("Knowledge and "In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee ), Ray Charles and Jimmy Rowles ("The Peacocks ) all come out sounding crisp, clean and, well, new. Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz is given a Monkish treatment; the title track, an original, is a bluesy homage to Williams; and Charles' "What Would I do Without You? has Stiles vocally navigating this gospel-infused blues in a superb duet with Pelt's expressive horn. Ellington's "All Too Soon is swung hard by piano trio and Monk's "'Round Midnight is delivered as an achingly beautiful ballad in this classically-inspired solo piano presentation.
An emotive yet precise player, Stiles also possesses a deliciously wry sense of musical humor. This is a fun take on jazz piano that effectively carves out a new place for a new talent.
Track Listing: The Brilliant Corners of Thelonious' Jumpin' Jeep; Jitterbug Waltz; Hurly-Burly (J2 Mary Lou); Pannonica; What Would I Do Without You?; Past Imperfect; All Too Soon; 'Round Midnight; Knowledgel The Peacocks; Bluesicity; In The Land Of Oo-Bla-De.
Personnel: Joan Stiles: vocals, piano; Lewis Nash: drums; Peter Washington: bass; Steve Wilson: alto saxophone; Jeremy Pelt: trumpet, flugelhorn; Joel Frahm: tenor saxophone.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.