Frank Wess, tenor sax (1,2,3,10,11)
Jerry Dodgion, alto & soprano sax (1,2,3,4,10,11)
Warren Vache, trumpet (1,3,10,11)
Joe Temperley, baritone sax & bass clarinet (1,2,3,4,10,11)
Benny Powell, trombone (3)
Wayne Goodman, trombone (1,2,10)
John Webber, bass (all tracks except 4,7,8)
Gregory Hutchinson, drums (all tracks except 4,7,8)
Special guest: Clark Terry, trumpet & flugelhorn (4,5)
For her debut outing as a leader, pianist-composer-arranger Joan Stiles wanted to create a relaxed, loosely swinging vibe in the studio with a carefully chosen group of respected players on the New York scene. Assembling a dream band whose collective ensemble experience includes stints with Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, Benny Goodman and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Stiles filters well-known standards through her own unique sensibilities with provocative reharmonizations, skillful voicings and an unerring sense of swing.
With the help of revered jazz elders Frank Wess and Clark Terry along with a crack ensemble including Jerry Dodgion on alto sax, Joe Temperley on baritone, Warren Vache on trumpet, Wayne Goodman and Benny Powell on trombones, John Webber on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums, Stiles succeeds magnificently on Love Call, a collection of extrapolations on standards for solo piano, piano trio, quartet, septet, octet and nonet.
"All are great ensemble players, all have a beautiful, natural sound and can play with powerful lyricism and swing" says the Brooklyn native and Manhattan resident. "I wrote for the musicians' individual sounds, revamping tunes I had been playing with a trio and putting together some new things as well."
That the session was recorded live to 2-track adds to the remarkably relaxed, gig-like feeling of Love Call. "I wanted an ensemble sound in which musicians were really playing together--great players sitting right next to each other, listening and blending--with no headphones."
Love Call was conceived with an ear towards variety--two intimate solo piano interpretations of Billy Strayhorn tunes and two swinging piano trio numbers are sandwiched in between the more ambitious "little big band" arrangements. Opening with an easy swinging original blues for octet, "Spherical," Stiles quickly establishes her connection to Monk in the quirky piano figures and dissonant horn lines. Vache solos brilliantly before Wess steps in sideways with a sly statement of his own, eventually succumbing to the powerful lure of the blues in his artfully developed solo. Stiles' own solo, which opens with some playful right-hand statements, stays true to the spirit of Monk and the thematic structure.
Stiles' impressionistic piano intro to "When I Fall In Love" segues to a hauntingly beautiful arrangement for septet, full of moving lines between the horns and gorgeous reharmonizations that unfold at a deliberate pace. "This arrangement was more influenced by Alban Berg's string quartet writing than by jazz with new chord progressions developing out of the individual melodic lines," she explains. "Right before Jerry's beautiful solo, there's a quote from Wagner's Tristan and Isolde and the descending horn lines evoke what a friend called 'a very adult vision of love.'"
An octet treatment of Clifford Brown's hard bop anthem "Daahoud" has Stiles punching up an implied Afro-Cuban undercurrent while giving baritone ace Temperley plenty of room to wail. This Horace Silver/Art Blakey influenced arrangement features the piano doubling and playing in tenths above the bass line played by John Webber.
The startling chamber-like rendition of Duke Ellington's "Creole Love Call," arranged for a quartet of piano, trumpet, bass clarinet and alto sax, is an excellent showcase for Clark Terry's muted trumpet and blues-drenched plunger solo. The beloved jazz legend returns for a superb performance on "Surrey with the Fringe on Top," conveying the epitome of relaxed, soulful expression against the tension of Stiles' vigorous comping. Her Monkish bass vamp evokes the sounds of the horses pulling the surrey.
On her trio rendition of "Tea for Two," Stiles opens with a rhapsodic intro before yielding to a bristling romp full of metric modulations and surprising twists. Her solo piano take on Strayhorn's melancholy "Blood Count" is suitably dark and introspective while her solo extrapolation on "Take The "A" Train" swings with wit and verve. And on a jauntily swinging trio rendition of the Frank Loesser standard "I've Never Been in Love Before," she is brimming with the joyous flair of a Wynton Kelly or Erroll Garner.
Stiles' lush nonet arrangement of Gershwin's mournful "My Man's Gone Now" from Porgy and Bess stands as an arranging triumph of this session. "I was familiar with the Miles Davis-Gil Evans version but I went back to the Gershwin score," she explains. "There's hardly any improvisation here. The ending section with Jerry's soprano sax glissandi is a variation on the soprano line in the operatic version."
The set closes on an invigorating note with a sextet version of Lerner & Lowe's "Almost Like Being in Love." Wess opens with a knowing, well-paced tenor solo. Vache follows with a crackling trumpet solo of his own, Dodgion offers some pungent bounce on alto sax and Stiles kicks in with a deft touch on piano. They each engage in spirited exchanges of fours with drummer Hutchinson before putting the exclamation point on this buoyant closer.
Stiles, who continues to teach in the New School Jazz program and at Manhattan School of Music, currently performs around New York in a variety of settings. For her concert series, "Mostly Mary Lou" she has been arranging and performing the music of Mary Lou Williams in ensembles with Steve Wilson, Jeremy Pelt, Dennis Irwin and Lewis Nash. For now, enjoy her fully realized maiden voyage, Love Call. -- Bill Milkowski
Producer: Joan Stiles
Co-Producer: David Berger
Engineer: Malcolm Addey
Recorded live to 2-track at Sound-on-Sound, NYC, January 17,18,1998
Additional engineering & mastering: Katherine Miller
Tracks 7, 8 recorded at The Studio, NYC, October 19, 2002
Photography: David Bartolomi
Package Design: 27.12 Design, Ltd. (www.2712design.com)