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Marian McPartland: Silent Pool

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Anticipation of this recording began in the jazz community months before the session took place. Ms. McPartland’s ceaseless growth as a pianist and Alan Broadbent’s blossoming into a major orchestral arranger made the collaboration something to look forward to. In the event, they exceed expectations. McPartland does some of her finest playing on record. Broadbent creates unity approaching that of the movements of a classical work.

A complete musician, McPartland’s strongest suit is harmony; the depth and richness of her voicings are widely admired by other pianists. Broadbent, himself an important pianist, is steeped in the impressionists and approaches chords with a dedication to exploring all of their possibilities. Creating settings in which McPartland would play her own pieces, he did not merely lay down carpets of sound, although on occasion his strings blow luxuriant billows. Rather, his writing buoys the piano, complements it in counterpoise or counterpoint, sets it off against the shimmer and texture of the strings. Sometimes, as in the early moments of “Threnody,” he uses silence as the strings’ most effective contribution. But later in the piece McPartland and the orchestra rise up singing in a moment of overt joy that is all the more effective because of the restraint that precedes it.

In “Twilight World,” McPartland goes into a sequence of block chords and the strings become almost subliminal. Then, in them, a neat reversal of roles, the orchestra assumes the melody and the piano accompanies. In “For Dizzy,” the composer-pianist and the orchestrator use Dizzy Gillespie’s chords in a way so moving that the piece becomes an elegy. Using the air of nostalgic otherworldliness that he has captured in his charts for Charlie Haden, Broadbent sets up McPartland’s lovely performance of “Stranger in a Dream.” There are dozens of equally satisfying moments in this timeless album.

McPartland is unaccompanied on “Melancholy Mood” and “Time and Time Again,” new versions of old pieces that demonstrate her constant renewal. The strings perform without piano in “With You in Mind,” putting concertmaster Murray Adler into the solo role and displaying his gorgeous tone, as “Stranger in a Dream” does cellist Fred Sykoura’s. Bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Harold Jones provide firm, discreet time throughout. This one is going to be around a long time.