In putting this project together, Joan Stiles made many good decisions. For sidemen she chose Steve Wilson, Joel Frahm, Jeremy Pelt, Peter Washington and Lewis Nash. She had the highly credible Doug Ramsey write the liner notes. For an engineer and studio she used Mike Marciano and Systems Two in Brooklyn. The repertoire (see below) is creatively assembled.
Stiles is an eclectic pianist (blues, boogie-woogie, even freebop are audible) with a dry, slightly bent sense of humor. Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” (recently enjoying a rediscovery as a perfect squiggly vehicle for modernists) has alto saxophonist Wilson teetering crazily and Stiles dropping little bombs in his path. Stiles’ drollery leads her naturally to Monk. On the very first track she somehow amalgamates “Brilliant Corners” and “Thelonious” into Johnny Hodges’ “The Jeep is Jumping.”
With Stiles and Monk, wit and beauty are not mutually exclusive. “Pannonica” has wryly displaced Monk-ian accents from Stiles beneath a passionate personal flugelhorn chorus from Jeremy Pelt. “’Round Midnight,” with an improbable E-flat-minor etude by Chopin in her left hand and Monk’s most pensive melody, lavish and formal, in her right, is odd and lovely. So is “The Peacocks,” Jimmy Rowles’ greatest, most mysterious song. Tenor saxophonist Frahm keens and whispers it.