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Marian McPartland: Twilight World

At 89 years old, pianist Marian McPartland sounds just as assured as she did at 79, or for that matter, anytime in the past six decades. The woman is a phenomenon, a classic stylist whose undiminished invention, sure technique and sophistication are cornerstones of the postwar jazz universe.

Did we forget to mention her restlessly inquisitive nature? For a player who cut her teeth in Dixieland and swing-to-bop mainstream to (successfully) attempt free-jazz improvisations, as she does on interpretations of Ornette Coleman’s “Turnaround” and “Lonely Woman,” is further testament to this remarkable polymath’s vision and vitality.

If the Coleman tracks are invigorating anomalies, the more characteristic performances that make up the bulk of Twilight World exhibit McPartland’s unfailing quality as an interpreter, soloist and empathetic group member, interacting gracefully with bassist Gary Mazzaroppi and drummer Glenn Davis. (Hear the trio on a longing “Blue in Green” that would have brought kudos from McPartland’s longtime friend and admirer Bill Evans.)

Mating her crystalline touch to melodic gifts that exalt structure and songful clarity, the pianist revitalizes popular and jazz standards as well as outstanding originals (“Twilight World,” “In the Days of Our Love,” “Stranger in a Dream”) that deserve higher recognition. Whether caressing “Alfie” in a solo rendition or bringing new luster to John Lewis’ “Afternoon in Paris” and Johnny Mandel’s “Close Enough for Love,” McPartland demonstrates a level of elegance that may elude fashion at times, but never truly goes out of style.

Originally Published