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Being a part of the big band sound was an experience pianist Alan Broadbent embraced, endured and eventually, wanted to step away from. Orchestra musiccomprised of boisterous reeds and brass sectionswere far too loud and too big drowning out the finesse sounds of the acoustic piano. When Broadbent left the Woody Herman Big Band in 1972, he said good bye to the ensemble sound, so he thought. After receiving a commission for a radio program with the renowned NDR Big Band (The Hamburg Radio Jazz Orchestra), the pianist accepted the opportunity to adapt his music to large orchestrations and to ..."even the odds, give each element its due" as he states, with respect to the pianist on the one hand and the brass on the other.
America The Beautiful marks the return of Broadbent to the big band genre as he joins forces with a world-class band in revisiting many old originals transformed by new big band arrangements where the soloist are not just pronounced but, not lost in the exciting orchestrations that a part of the music. The opening "Between The Lines" is the pianist's interpretation of the Dizzy Gillespie/Charlie Parker intro to "All The Things You Are" highlighting Broadbent, two saxophonist and a trombonist on clear solo moments in testament and an attempt to make the band sound like a small combo where the soloist are the main feature.
The great Billy Strayhorn is remembered on a spacious arrangement of the terrific "Sonata for Swee' Pea," while Broadbent reprises his tribute to bandleader Herman on his oft-recorded "Woody 'n' me" with NDR tenor saxophonist Christof Lauer doing the honors on a gorgeous solo. The pianist's classical style comes to the fore on the soft balladic "Covenant," and compliments the orchestra on the lofty big band chart "The Long White Cloud." The brief but beautiful "Love in Silent Amber," written when the pianist was 23 years old, is one of the tunes where the orchestra stays in the background as Broadbent leads the music.
The group and leader seem to swing away on the Sonny Clark tribute piece "Sonny's Step" featuring NDR saxophonist Lutz Buchner, trumpeter Claus Stotter, drummer Marcel Seriese and the entire band on this highlight of the album. The most ambitious and expansive piece of the recording, is the lovely "Mendocino Nights" dedicated to wife Alison which features Broadbent on the introduction in the most pronounced solo of the album.
Last, but not least, is Broadbent's tribute to the American spirit with the swinging title piece gracefully performed by this foreign ensemble, is unrecognizable for the first few choruses as the melody is cleverly disguised until revealed later on. With the outstanding compliment of the NDR Big Band, pianist Alan Broadbent makes his long overdue return to the orchestra side of jazz with an inspiring session of music on America The Beautiful. Let's hope this current foray into the style, is not his last.
Track Listing: 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.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.