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THE LIONS IN WINTER
MARIAN MCPARTLAND, STILL INVENTIVE

AT AGE 80, conductor Leopold Stokowski injured his leg playing football with his grandson. Despite the injury, he founded the American Symphony Orchestra the same year. In his 80th year on earth, Pablo Casals got married -- to a younger student.

In 1865, Lord Palmerston was elected at that age to be British prime minister. Grandma Moses had her first show at 80. And sculptor Henry Moore, at 80, had a mammoth show that was a combination retrospective and new work.

It all depends on who you are. At 80, some jazz pianists haven't been near a recording mike in 30 years.

Then there's 81-year-old Marian McPartland.

Her new disc is called "Reprise," and it marks her reunion with bassist Bill Crow and drummer Joe Morello, with whom she established her fame in the late 1950s.

If an unusual free-spirited and foxy jazz disc-spinner were to subject his radio listenership to a quick little blindfold test of McPartland and Morello playing "Cymbalism" from this disc, the chances of a correct identification would be approximately 1 in 100,000. Also unlikely would be anyone guessing that this free-form duo, between them, had logged more than 150 years on this mortal coil.

They aren't young lions, nor are they pretending to be. It's just that they are musicians of such vitality and imagination that -- in their case -- their age doesn't matter. When you know who they are, there is an exceptional poignance to McPartland's solo version of "Last Night When We Were Young." But if you listen to her think out loud in her version of "In Your Own Sweet Way," you're in the presence of a mainstream jazz pianist who couldn't possibly be playing more in the here and now. Her juniors might have it all over her in terms of chops (chops were never her thing, color and shading and swing were), but there is no jazz pianist of any age who belongs at the keyboard more.

Back at the Hickory House they had to battle crowds that, sometimes, might have been auditioning for NFL games. The lighting, says her great bassist Crow (one of the wittiest of jazz raconteurs), was better for the club's meat display than it was for the band. So he worked out a kind of ready-made lighting system himself from the bandstand that he operated with his feet.

As revered elders in 1998, no such last-ditch measures were necessary. They just played -- a beloved jazz pianist (and, for decades, jazz broadcaster), a melodic and underrated bassist and a virtuoso drummer in the post-Buddy Rich mode. There is a lot of greater current jazz than there is on "Reprise." There is no greater jazz spirit anywhere. Rating: *** 1/2 .

There has been no greater jazz piano disc this year than D.D. Jackson's phenomenal solo disc " . . . so far," nor is there likely to be. Playing solo piano is an art of its own that very few pianists ever master fully. The towering solo jazz pianists can be ticked off on the fingers of both hands with a couple left over: Art Tatum, Fats Waller, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson (sometimes), Ray Bryant and Michel Petrucciani. To that list -- elite enough to be Olympian -- you can place Jackson high up.

His stock in trade, up to now, has been the brilliant, pinpoint continuation of Don Pullen's application of extravagant piano splatter to his solos -- those pile-driving tone clusters, rolling-thunder ostinatos and mad, jackhammered glissandi that Henry Cowell and Bela Bartok's "Allegro Barbaro" brought to the piano and that Cecil Taylor has virtually turned into an abstract energy music.

Pullen understood how to tame that bear -- and exactly when to let it loose. So, perhaps even more so, does Jackson. " . . . so far" alludes to a riot of the 32-year-old pianist's instrumental icons and influences: Michel Camilo, Duke Ellington, Ornette Coleman, Claude Debussy, Thelonious Monk, John Hicks, Vladimir Horowitz, Charles Mingus, Jaki Byard, Don Pullen, Bud Powell. There is absolutely nothing remotely studious -- or, for that matter, presumptuous -- about this music. It contains nary an ounce of the conservatory practice room but is rather flamboyant musical expression as urgent and other-directed as a fire alarm. Despite his years of classical training, he has no fear, sometimes, of using the piano as an elaborately tuned drum.

There is deep soul in this music and explosive joy, not to mention a rhythmic sense that alternates rubato with hard swing so artfully that no bass or drums are necessary.

From the first, many of us thought D.D. Jackson one of the great and remarkable jazz pianists. With ". . . so far" he confirms it. Rating: **** 1/2 .

MARIAN MCPARTLAND'S HICKORY HOUSE TRIO Reprise (Concord Jazz CCD-4853-2)
D.D. JACKSON . . . so far (BMG Classics RCA-63549-2, available Tuesday)

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