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Roberta Piket: One for Marian

Victor L. Schermer By

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In 1945, as World War II came to an end, Marian McPartland (1918-2013) moved from England to the United Sates with her then husband, trumpeter Jimmy McPartland. She had already achieved some notoriety as a pianist on radio shows and with the USO, and in the U.S., with her husband's encouragement, she found a secure niche as a jazz pianist, leader, and composer, most notably as a house pianist at the famed Hickory House in New York, where many greats on the keyboards moved forward in their careers. She went on to be a well-known figure on the jazz scene. Her major and lasting contribution to the legacy was her superb hosting of the NPR Show, "Piano Jazz," where from 1978 to 2011, she conducted superb interviews with a legion of jazz musicians who additionally played their own music as well as duets with her. She was both penetrating and generous in her interviews, and countless jazz fans have lasting memories of tuning into her show, getting an intelligent take on the music, and feeling uniquely close to her, the musicians, and their music.

In all her endeavors—performing, educating, broadcasting -McPartland encouraged the careers of many young jazz musicians. In the New Millennium, she was impressed by emerging artist Roberta Piket's piano playing, and invited her to appear on her show. They formed a warm friendship, and this album is Piket's way of remembering her and expressing gratitude. Piket also wanted to highlight McPartland's under-recognized contributions as a composer, so six of the eight tracks on the album are McPartland tunes.

The album consists of mainstream post-bop and impressionist flavors, a gentle but lively expression of caring for someone who was so treasured by many. There is nostalgia as well, reminding one of the club scene and the Blue Note recordings of the late 1940s-1950s, when modern jazz came into its own. This is partly the result of Piket's arrangements for a sextet, which was a common configuration during that time.

As a pianist, Piket has evolved a distinct style well-described in Downbeat as "the absence of a steady pulse, stride or walking bass: Instead, she establishes momentum through a rhythmic motif [...and] keeps things moving through more intricate alterations between her hands." Of course, something similar could be said of many pianists who emphasize the Bill Evans tradition, for one notable example, Don Friedman. What is truly unique is the way Piket weaves her own novel ideas into the given structure, creating a signature fabric of sound. She avoids clichés. So do her co-musicians. This makes for great listening pleasure.

The album begins with McPartland's tune, "Ambiance," an ambling melody that is here set within a polyrhythmic bass/drum layout. Steve Wilson provides a wispy flute solo that captures the mood of the piece. Piket's title tune, "One for Marian" brings in upbeat energy that is reminiscent of Horace Silver and just a touch of Wayne Shorter in their early Blue Note recordings. Piket's comping and the bass/drums backing by Harvie S. and Billy Mintz respectively are elegant, as are the tight horn arrangements and round of solos. "In the Days of Our Love" is a warm ballad by McPartland featuring sophisticated trumpet work by Bill Mobley.

McPartland's "Twilight World" features a guest appearance by prominent vocalist Karrin Allyson. This haunting song, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, is done as a piano/vocal duet. It is a sweet evocation of the evanescence of life with a French impressionist feeling. "Life is a changing panorama; love is a dancing butterfly."

"Threnody," which McPartland composed in memory of Mary Lou Williams, is a tribute based more on the joy of recollection than a sense of loss. This makes it different from memorial tunes like Benny Golson's "I Remember Clifford," in memory of Clifford Brown, and Charles Mingus' "Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat," dedicated to Lester Young. You can almost feel the presence of Mary Lou in the way the piece unfolds, especially in Wilson's flute solos, which borrows a lot as well from Herbie Mann.

"Time and Time Again" is a ballad done here with a sophisticated twist in which Mintz uses the bongos and congas absent the Latin flavoring. Virginia Mayhew's tenor saxophone, Mobley's muted trumpet, and Piket's piano take up the nicely understated solo work. "Saying Goodbye" is a Piket original that starts out a bit like Bill Evans' "I Will Say Goodbye," and midway picks up speed before returning to a reflective bass solos by Harvie S. and a flugelhorn solo by Mobley that evokes memories of Art Farmer. The album concludes appropriately with the theme song from the "Jazz Piano" show, McPartland's "Kaleidoscope." Piket's arrangement begins with a brooding piano intro that suddenly rips into rapid-fire saxophone, trumpet, piano, and drum solos that bring the piece to a rousing conclusion.

Track Listing: Ambiance; One for Marian; In the Days of Our Love; Twilight World (excerpt); Threnody (excerpt); Time and Time Again (excerpt); Saying Goodbye; Kaleidoscope.

Personnel: Roberta Piket: piano, leader; Steve Wilson: alto saxophone, flute; Virginia Mayhew: tenor saxophone and clarinet; Bill Mobley: trumpet and flugelhorn; Harvie S.: bass, drums and percussion: Billy Mintz; Karrin Allyson, vocals (Twilight World).

Title: One for Marian | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Thirteenth Note Records

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