It isn't hard to imagine how some jazz purists will react upon seeing the name Steely Dan on one of Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz releases; they're likely to ask, "What, in God's name, is a pop/rock group doing in McPartland's presence?" But even though Steely Dan isn't a jazz act per se, they have always had jazz influences -- and it would be a mistake to think of this CD as strictly a pop/rock disc. Actually, the original material of Steely Dan leaders Donald Fagen (vocals, acoustic piano) and Walter Becker (electric guitar) takes somewhat of a back seat to instrumental straight-ahead jazz when they join forces with pianist McPartland, bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Keith Carlock. Some longtime Steely Dan enthusiasts might be disappointed to know that only three Fagen/Becker songs are performed: "Josie," "Black Friday" and "Chain Lightning" -- you won't hear "Peg," "Do It Again," "Rikki, Don't Lost That Number," "Deacon Blues," "Hey Nineteen" or "Reeling in the Years." Nonetheless, there are many enjoyable moments, and McPartland has no problem finding common ground with Fagen and Becker -- common ground that includes a healthy appreciation of Duke Ellington's repertoire. Between three songs associated with the Duke ("Mood Indigo," Mercer Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" and the lesser known "Limbo Jazz"), W.C. Handy's "Hesitation Blues" and the standard "Star Eyes," Steely Dan's encounter with McPartland is dominated by straight-ahead jazz -- not the jazz-influenced, soul-minded pop/rock that made Steely Dan famous during their '70s heyday. This intriguing CD may not have as many Steely Dan classics as some of their die-hard fans would like, but their appearance on Piano Jazz is full of pleasant surprises and reminds us just how much jazz means to '70s pop/rock icons.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson