One of the nicer things about reviewing a new release by Marian McPartland is that one needn't prattle on about what a marvelous pianist she is - everyone knows that - and can move on to other fundamentals such as her choice of playing partners and the music itself, both of which are, in this case, first-class. To help celebrate her 80th birthday McPartland invited half a dozen of her friends and fellow pianists to take part in a series of duets, much like those that have become almost second nature to her, thanks to the long-running (19 years) and award-winning PBS radio program, Piano Jazz, over which she presides so elegantly each week. Her guests include a quartet of decorated veterans - Tommy Flanagan, George Shearing, Dave Brubeck, Gene Harris - and two widely praised newcomers, Renee Rosnes and Geri Allen - and while their styles differ in many respects, McPartland enwraps each of them as gently as the proverbial glove. Most of the dozen duets (two with each of her guests) are standards, with these exceptions: Chick Corea's "Some Time Ago" (with Rosnes), a spontaneous free improvisation entitled "Chrysalis" (with Allen), McPartland's own composition, "Twilight World" (with Shearing) and Brubeck's tribute piece, "Marian McPartland," which he and Marian play. There's a 13th number, "Marian's Solo (for Jimmy)," dedicated to her late husband, cornetist Jimmy McPartland, which charmingly combines two melodies he loved to play, "When the Saints Go Marchin In" and "Bluebells of Scotland." Exactly who is improvising when on each of the duets isn't disclosed in the liner notes or on the jacket, but it doesn't matter, as everyone plays brilliantly. McPartland, as we said, meshes well with everyone, from Shearing's bop-based stylings to Harris's blues-oriented approach, Flanagan's urbane attitude, Brubeck's classically-tinged point of view and Allen's more avant-garde musings - and at no time is one aware of any "generation gap." These are McPartland's peers, regardless of age, and she is perfectly comfortable with each of them. Those who like their piano music pure and sparkling should find this a thirst-quenching delight.
Track Listing: Jeepers Creepers; I've Got a Crush on You; Some Time Ago; It's You or No One; Just Friends; Twilight World; Lullaby of the Leaves; Chrysalis (an improvisation); Gone with the Wind; Marian McPartland; There Will Never Be Another You; Lady Be Good; When the Saints Go Marching In (72:53).
Personnel: Marian McPartland, Tommy Flanagan, Renee Rosnes, George Shearing, Geri Allen, Dave Brubeck, Gene Harris, pianos.