London Jazz News

Pizza Express Dean Street, 7th September 2016

At the risk of stating the obvious, it is always rewarding to listen carefully right through to the end of each number when Alan Broadbent is playing the piano. In his solos he effortlessly traverses different moods and sound-worlds, with a seemingly limitless musical vocabulary at his disposal. But what happened last night when the slow and reflective song Cherry Tree – and others too – was being placed carefully to rest was pure alchemy, as a series of improbably light and ethereal textures emerged, the gentlest of right-hand piano shimmers. We were somewhere near the borders of silence, where the touch on a piano is as light as is humanly possible.

The occasion was the London gig for his songwriting project with singer / lyricist Georgia Mancio, which started in 2013, and from which an album is due to be released next spring. When talking about his writing, Broadbent ventured last night – as he often does – that he was “born way behind my time,” implying that the way he inhabits and extends the classic American songbook is not just an imperative, it is his way of being. He is not the only significant figure in jazz to have felt the need to make such rueful and unapologetic remarks. The Paul Desmond-ism “I was unfashionable before anyone knew who I was,” also springs to mind.

The songs, with their fresh, and wonderfully clearly delivered Mancio lyrics, have charm and character, and are always reminiscent of, yet different from, other points from the canon. Forever Yours is a tune with the same constant feel of being in two as well as in three as Sammy Fain’s Alice in WonderlandWhen I’m With Bud echoes both Bouncing with Bud and Joni Mitchell’s Twisted. Mancio sings this repertoire with clarity and integrity, always from memory. Bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Dave Ohm have both been with this project since the start. One might imagine that a pianist who worked so much with greats like Charlie Haden could start to coast along gently with a “local rhythm section,” but Broadbent seemed constantly enlivened and inspired by the sterling contributions of both Ohm and Hayhurst.

Having done the whole programme without reference to any written documents, Mancio then gave an impassioned speech – again completely from memory – which drew attention to two causes that she gives her considerable energies to, both relating to the “Jungle” refugee camp in Calais.