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Love Call by Joan Stiles

Joan Stiles has been performing around New York City in a musical series that she has developed called Mostly Mary Lou, which consists of her own adaptations of the music of Mary Lou Williams. Plus, Stiles has been teaching at the Manhattan School of Music and the New School University. But it wasn’t until this year that Stiles released her own CD. Obviously, Stiles wanted to make sure the CD was produced according to her standards, and patiently she waited until the right musicians were available. So, not only does Love Call introduce us to Stiles’ arranging and performing talents, known already to New Yorkers, but also it includes a first-rate roster of talent musicians like Clark Terry, Frank Wess, Warren Vaché, Joe Temperley, Jerry Dodgion and Benny Powell. When Stiles involves an octet, nonet, septet or quartet, revealed is her personalized nature of arranging, in which she has a musician in mind when she writes, not to mention the immediate response of these consummate professionals who take Stiles’ musical suggestions and adapt them to their own personalities. All of these veterans have played in some of the most influential bands in jazz, such as Duke Ellington’s, Benny Goodman’s or Count Basie’s; Stiles indeed is fortunate to be able to tap into their experiences when presenting her arrangements for the first time on CD.

The first track is an accurate indicator of all that follows. Her blues, "Spherical," combines warm voicing, tight cohesiveness, memorable solos and reharmonizations to claim the listener’s attention. Warren Vaché contributes a clearly conceived, melodic solo, and so does Jerry Dodgion, each possessing different ideas succinctly expressed but in agreement about the need to quickly make their statement to advance the tune and provide various perspectives. Stiles solos too, as determined as the others is she in creating a personal image afforded by the tune.

Stiles remains within the octet framework on Clifford Brown’s "Daahoud," this time adding trombones in place of saxophones for another way to create the comforting resonance that imbues the tune with warmth. On "When I Fall In Love," Stiles allows Dodgion to take the lead as the horns create shifting colors behind him, but then she alters the chords to add a minor tinge as the band drops out, allowing the alto sax to float above the piano trio.

The middle section of the CD consists of several Ellington numbers, and a muted Clark Terry, an alumnus of that orchestra, joins Temperley on bass clarinet and Dodgion on alto sax for "Creole Love Song." Terry continues on "Surrey With A Fringe On Top," playing the first chorus straight in the lower range before an unmistakably CT clarion call leading into the second.

Thereafter, Stiles take over, playing without accompaniment on the medley of Billy Strayhorn’s "Blood Count" and "Take The ‘A’ Train," the first leading naturally into the next with expressiveness. Stiles’ version of "Tea For Two" starts freely in a bi-tonal fashion, one hand in one key while the other is in another, before gliding into a straight swing, Stiles still moving effortlessly into another keys from one measure to the next without hint or difficulty.

Certainly uncompromising in working to attract the talent she wants on her CD, Joan Stiles creates interest by illuminating jazz compositions from the past with a more contemporary sensibility for the tension or the synthesis of well-known arrangements transformed to suit the personalities of the musicians at hand, of quirky dissonance phrasing contrasting with familiar melodies, of understanding and drawing out the personalities of musicians who recorded on hundreds of albums.... and still finding new ideas previously unheard.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Joan Stiles
  • CD Title: Love Call
  • Genre: Jazz Vocals
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: ZOHO
  • Rating: Three Stars
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