The Puritan Pianist
The album, on excellent themes paced all within a general range called medium tempo, is named for an opening tune whose words invite parodic performance. It’s a pretty good jazz vehicle, whose theme statement Broadbent colours a little with some harmonisation out of his teacher Lennie Tristano’s bag. Broadbent’s a somewhat chaste-toned player, at an opposite extreme alike from impressionism and from romantic expansive phrasing, but presumably his orchestral ambitions are satisfied by the other career, arranging and composing for big ensembles, which it’s said has rather eclipsed awareness of his virtues as a pianist. It can’t have done so that badly, given that he has ten or so CDs to his name.
His touch isn’t wanting in sensitivity, but there’s a sort of matter-of-factness to his playing ahead of the beat, cleanly, and building up emphasis with an exact articulation which comes in considerable contrast to the very expressive and well-featured bass of Brian Bromberg. Even Bromberg (the real star of this CD) can’t remedy a certain lack of warmth from the pianist. The liner note goes on about soul-baring, but Broadbent is an emotionally very reserved performer. Lee Morgan’s “Ceora” gives as good an example as any of playing different lines with each hand, both somewhere in the upper middle of the keyboard. This is Broadbent’s not at all decorative version of jazz counterpoint. Each line prods at the other, pushing rather than swinging.
“What’s New” is very much Lennie Tristano again, with a dark heavy left hand figuration in the opening. It’s an unusually slow-paced performance and very deliberate, building tension till the bassist’s solo entry is something of a relief. Letting some notes almost twang and sustaining the resonance of plucked notes to create long lines Bromberg’s playing suggests that there’s little he could do with a bow that he couldn’t do with simply his fingers. He plays with considerable abandon on a performance of Jerome Kern’s “Dearly Beloved” taken at a brisk pace. Broadbent plays with abandon nowhere; there is no relaxation and neither the silly words of “You and the Night”, nor the words of any of the songs here seem to matter to him, or the fact that any of the tunes did happen to have words.
He doesn’t observe any of the singing tempos and I’m bound to say I find his perpetually temperate playing at times close to unrelenting. “Cerebral” is a word which has been used for this sort of approach.
Of performances by Tristano followers I know best a fairly obscure CD whose presence in a German second-hand shop I cannot explain, and whose removal at small cost I have never regretted. This although the pianist had obviously gotten out of the way of playing for an audience: until more than half way through the live gig, there are no real performances. He just starts playing, goes on for three minutes or so and stops; and starts playing something else without thinking of anything else, and when he thinks he’s gone on enough he stops again. The man was nearer Tristano’s age, and his name was Sal Mosca, playing entirely solo, as he’s presumably been doing for himself for quite a time or his fingers wouldn’t be working quite so well. There’s a drama to the whole thing, an immense release and satisfaction when his thinking gets into order and his developments from beginnings more and more find shape and direction and real conclusions. This is a long way from the present CD.
The “wealth of emotion” the sleevenote writer mentions I no more find (it has perhaps been transfigured) than I do the “broad swatches of colour” or the “inherent colloquialisms” which allegedly “beckon one to listen closer”: a phrase which manages to be even less colloquial than the very precise piano playing throughout.
Which is certainly superlatively accomplished.