For McPartland, that started to change in a major way in 1978, when her National Public Radio series, Piano Jazz, debuted, and she was given a wide audience who heard her sharing the air with some of the greatest figures in jazz and always holding her own. This collection, which contains two full albums recorded in 1979, one in the studio and one onstage at the Concord Jazz Festival, were among the first releases to capitalize on her new-found notoriety, and she generated some terrific performances in turn. In fairness, it can't be said her performances were terrific because of the heightened awareness of her work - her performances had always been terrific - but at a point where truly inspired performance had a chance to pay off in career terms, Marian McPartland delivered.
Disc One contains the album Portrait of Marian McPartland, an eight track studio set in which her trio (with Jake Hanna on drums and Brian Torff on bass) is augmented by Jerry Dodgion on alto and flute. Everything you like about McPartland, her innovative and lyrical solo work, her generosity as a leader and arranger, her sensitive respect for the composer, it's all here on one of the best albums of a career full of 'bests.' Dodgion is a fine addition throughout, but his flue work on the McPartland original, "Time and Time Again," that closes the set is particularly noteworthy.
Disc Two contains At The Festival, recorded at the 1979 Concord (CA) Jazz Festival, with McPartland, Torff and Hanna joined by alto saxophonist Mary Fettig for the last three tunes of an eight song set. Only 26 at the time, and already a veteran of the Stan Kenton Band, Kettig demonstrated the strength of tone and instrumental command that's made her a first call player and top jazz educator in the Bay Area to this day. I'm particularly thankful, though, for the five trio tracks, because McPartland, Torff and Hanna were truly a special ensemble, and hearing them unadorned is an unadorned joy.
The two albums that comprise this release belong in any and every Marian McPartland collection, and having them available in this format is an undiluted pleasure.