In the brief liner essay that accompanies America The Beautiful, pianist Alan Broadbent notes that he has "an aversion to being clever," but the rest of the music world never received that memo. Everybody from Irene Kral to Diana Krall and Charlie Haden to Charlie Rich has benefited from his brilliance with a pen and/or a piano. Now Broadbent gets a chance to live within his own well-written constructs.
America The Beautiful finds Broadbent in the company of Hamburg's NDR Bigband, revisiting a world that he thought he'd left for good when he left the employ of bandleader Woody Herman more than four decades ago. And it's a welcome return, for he has a lot to say in this area. He uses the DNA of "All The Things You Are" to create something new ("Between The Lines"), he gives the great Billy Strayhorn a tribute that's weightier than what the man would've written himself ("Sonata For Swee' Pea"), and he creates a moving tribute to Herman that's simply breathtaking ("Woody 'N' Me").
As things continue, Broadbent plays with textures and counterpoint ("Covenant"), steps to the fore with his piano on a brief-and-direct winner written long ago ("Love In Silent Amber"), swings away on a tribute to pianist Sonny Clark ("Sonny's Step"), and introduces a tribute to his wife all by his lonesome ("Mendocino Nights"). And then there's the title track, which is revitalized with a facelift, yet retains its stirring qualities.
While Broadbent's charts and piano get a lot of well-deserved attention here, this is a collaborative affair, and the NDR Bigband proves to be quite the match for the man with top-billing. It presents a warm-and-rich, balanced-and-brandied sound that's miles away from the screaming brass-meets-silken saxophone sound that's so prevalent in more traditional outfits. The band does have plenty of firepower, but the big guns and heavy ammunition are reserved for the right times.
This group operates like a single well-oiled machine, but the individual personalities shouldn't be discounted or overlooked. Tenor saxophonist Christof Lauer proves to be a monster talent, whether burning or bathing in the glow of Broadbent's writing, bassist Ingmar Heller makes his mark on a couple of occasions, and several other band members get some space to shine.
America The Beautiful is remarkable, and that should come as no surprise. The NDR Bigband has proven highly capable on many occasions before, and Alan Broadbent seems to excel in every musical setting he settles into.
Between The Lines; Sonata For Swee' Pea; Woody 'N' Me; Covenant; The Long White
Cloud; Love In Silent Amber; Sonny's Step; Mendocino Nights; America The Beautiful.