Live at Shanghai Jazz
This live recording at the leading jazz club in Madison, N.J., reunites pianist McPartland with Joe Morello, the drummer in her trio of the early 1950s. As on her 1999 Hickory House Trio date, Reprise (Concord), their empathy is undiluted. Rufus Reid is a good fit in the bass chair once occupied by Vinnie Burke and Bill Crow. Old associations aside, McPartland is not about nostalgia, except in the choice of composers whose work she cherishes. She gives Mary Lou Williams' "Scratchin' in the Gravel" a medium tempo that nudges Reid and Morello into a groove encouraging a thoughtful bass solo and an exchange of four-bar phrases saturated with Morello's wit and impeccable time.
McPartland hovers around the melody throughout Clare Fischer's "Pensativa," emphasizing the song's beauty and the richness of its harmonies. She incorporates little decoration-a chord blended with the pedal and one perfectly placed arpeggio, demonstrating that in the right hands less can be more. She takes an excursion through block chords on Duke Ellington's "Just Squeeze Me" and gives his "Prelude to a Kiss" an unaccompanied first 16 bars that allude to the master's own playing without imitating it. The modified Latin beat of Morello's brush work, Reid's duple time and McPartland's voicings give Alec Wilder's "Moon and Sand" a sinuous aspect.
McPartland and Morello take a trip into uncharted territory in a piece later titled "A Snare and a Delusion," the sort of free adventure into that she likes to lure her guests into on her radio program, Piano Jazz. It builds into interesting dynamics and ends, too soon, with an amusing bit of Morello subtlety. "All the Things You Are" takes a while to get off the ground because of McPartland's concentration on the old crowd-pleasing device of developing a fugue a la Bach, Tristano or Shearing. It is one routine moment in a stimulating album that concludes with a profound solo piano version of "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair."