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Alan Broadbent: Every Time I Think of You

Alan Broadbent is a highly accomplished and tasteful pianist who has been ensnared by the siren song that has victimized so many good jazz musicians. The song whispers, “Make an album with strings!”

Strings are so tempting because they are pure refined sugar, and because their massed, sighing presence creates the impression of scale around any jazz soloist. The problem with strings is that their sweetness is usually both cloying and insubstantial, like cotton candy. It is also difficult to mix them into a recording that includes jazz improvisation without either making them too distant and disembodied, or too close and invasive of the soloist’s space. (Here, the strings are somehow both: in the way and not quite relevant.)

Broadbent’s writing for the Tokyo String Section is glossy and conventional. The keening violins almost turn “Bess, Oh Where’s My Bess” into mood music, and sentimentalize the dry poignance of “Blue in Green.” Worse, the addition of strings to Broadbent’s working trio with bassist Brian Bromberg and drummer Kendall Kay has the effect of compromising his piano playing. The strings cause him to simplify, and to stay close to the surface of songs he would otherwise dig into deeply, like “Last Night When We Were Young” and “Lover Man.”

Broadbent’s best trio albums are beautiful. His string album is merely pretty.

Originally Published