The fact that Marian McPartland has chosen on this outstanding recording to celebrate the genius of Billy Strayhorn comes as no surprise. Born William Thomas Strayhorn and known lovingly as "Sweet Pea" to his cronies, his is a name that is all but inseparable from that of Duke Ellington, with whom he composed and arranged over a timespan stretching from the late 1930s until Strayhorn's untimely death in 1967. McPartland has previously given us small does of her way with a Strayhorn piece, and it is nothing less than delicious to have the full recital here.
The collaboration between Strayhorn and Ellington was so closely intertwined during those productive years that telling them apart, even for the most knowing aficionado, was at times all but impossible. Most of the tunes in this set have been recorded by the Ellington orchestra and, like Strayhorn himself, they are at once complex and pure, aggressive but shy, slyly comical but profoundly melancholy. Above everything else, they are contrived with matchless intelligence and awareness and will provide musicians for generations to come with challenges not frequently found in today's jazz world. These challenges are met glowingly here. McPartland has applied her remarkable talents with her usual assurance and flair, having assembled some fine musicians to round out the sound she desires. The results are pure gold.