By Norton Wright
Los Angeles, CA. Trying to review a performance of pianist Alan Broadbent is like trying to describe lightning in a bottle. Broadbent’s playing is electrifying, so charged with power, substance, and beauty that descriptions like “swinging,” “groovy,” “funky,” etc. are wholly inadequate.
On Saturday night at the elegant and so well-suited Zipper Concert Hall in the Colburn School of Music, as part of her Jazz Bakery’s Moveable Feasts, impresario Ruth Price presented a rare west-coast appearance of Grammy Award-winning pianist, composer and arranger Alan Broadbent with his trio-mates, Darek Oles (acoustic bass) and Kendall Kaye (drums). For 90 breathtaking minutes, Broadbent at the piano created 10 lengthy “compositions” deftly improvised and developed on the spot, several based on the tunes of the late jazz bassist Charlie Haden and his Quartet West of which Broadbent was an integral part starting in 1987. And making this delicious musical feast even more meaningful was the presence in the audience of Haden’s wife, singer and album producer Ruth Cameron.
Beginning with Haden’s composition “Hello My Lovely,” Broadbent’s creative approach can often be likened to that of famed abstract “ action painters” like William de Kooning, Sam Francis, and Franz Kline. Their paintings were described by art critic Harold Rosenberg as encounters in which the artist uses his/her canvas as “an arena in which to act,” the result being “not a picture but an event.” In similar fashion Broadbent often uses his piano in encounters with a familiar tune so that the result is not just the jazzification of the tune but rather a wholly larger “event,” a wholly new and spontaneous composition.
Such was clearly the case with Broadbent’s take on the Miles Davis/Bill Evans’ piece, “Blue In Green.” At the outset, he deconstructed the piece playing only abstract fragments of it’s melody and harmonies (“What is this?” we thought) – then gradually pulling the fragments back together again revealing a new whole of that familiar tune. In this deconstruction/reconstruction “event” the audience was enthralled by the architecture of the piece as if the tune was coming out of early morning fog revealing its new and exceptional beauty.
In “Blue In Green” and later in “Body And Soul,” as Broadbent sometimes does– and we never hear it coming! – in the middle of the numbers, he changed the rhythmic feel with startlingly complex counterpoint passages in which his left hand switched over to take the melodic line while his right hand took over to the harmonic chording. Such contrapuntal surprises fueled both numbers with mesmerizing urgency.
Other highlights of the evening included sidemen Kendall Kaye and Darek Oles in top form, Kaye’s softly brushed percussion a perfect complement to Broadbent’s piano and Oles providing subtly nuanced bass backgrounds and a particularly rousing, walking bass solo on the Chick Wayne tune, “Solar,” which is often attributed, wrongly, to Miles Davis.
Toward evening’s end, the trio ventured into a lovely “The Long Goodbye.” Broadbent built the tempo into such racing arpeggios that a fragment of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Flight Of The Bumble Bee” flew by. And for an encore responding to the audience’s standing ovation, the trio romped into an exuberant take on Harry Warren’s “I Wish I Knew.”
I only wish I knew when the Alan Broadbent Trio will be returning to L.A. It was a memorable night!
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P.S. The Alan Broadbent Trio’s performance at Zipper Concert Hall was financially helped by Mark & Janine Miller, members of the Jazz Bakery’s Performance Fund Donors and Inner Circle Group. So many good folks like the Millers are part of The Jazz Bakery’s activities that it’s hoped that the Bakery’s President and Artistic Director, Ruth Price, will soon be able to announce complete funding for the Bakery’s new venue already designed by architect Frank Gehry and to be built at 9814 Washington Blvd., next to the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.
The building goal is a sizable $25 million but in Tinsel Town with jazz aficionados like Clint Eastwood (“Bird”), Woody Allen (“Sweet & Lowdown”) Don Cheadle (“Miles Davis Ahead”), Jeff Bridges (“The Fabulous Baker Boys”), and Jeff Goldblum (playing piano with the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra at Rockwell in L.A. this week) – shouldn’t full funding for the new Jazz Bakery be imminent?