Personnel: Marian McPartland (piano); Bruce Hornsby (vocals, piano).
Marian McPartland hasn't worried for a moment about fans who become disgruntled when her weekly guest comes from outside of jazz. But they have little to gripe about with rocker Bruce Hornsby, who not only has a jazz background from his studies at the University of Miami, but immediately tells his host that he waited a dozen years or more to accept her invitation in order to get his solo piano chops up to a level that he deemed acceptable. Hornsby is hardly the typical rock composer, as he creates imaginative melodies with lyrics that never fall into a rut. His amusing opener, "King of the Hill," incorporates the right-hand line of Bill Evans' difficult "Twelve Tone Tune" in several spots, while it's easy to imagine Marian stifling raucous laughter as he sings the line, "Got his hand in his pants at the skin flick/Leisure suit, thinks it's slick." Equally infectious is "Sneaking Up on Boo Radley," a song inspired by his childhood habit of following mental patients around in his hometown. An incredible right-hand line that blends influences from several diverse musical styles accompanies his ostinato bass. Hornsby's signature song, "The Way It Is," comes across as a modern but intricate folk melody that shines even brighter in this solo interpretation. When McPartland joins him for several duets, each time it's obvious that they're having a ball together. They act as if they've been dueting for years in Bud Powell's demanding bop anthem "Parisian Thoroughfare," a piece that can quickly turn into a train wreck in a duo piano setting. "Solar" and "Blue Monk" also showcase great teamwork and fine solos by each of them. Marian's solo number is a lyrical, improvised arrangement of the old chestnut "Close Your Eyes." McPartland's strength as an interviewer is readily apparent, as her guest responds enthusiastically to each of her questions. While fans of Bruce Hornsby will no doubt snap up this CD, jazz listeners who are unfamiliar with him owe it to themselves to explore this very rewarding broadcast from Marian McPartand's Piano Jazz radio series. ~ Ken Dryden