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Alan Broadbent With the London Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra: Developing Story (Eden River)

Thomas Conrad reviews album by pianist Alan Broadbent featuring the London Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra

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Cover of "Developing Story" album by Alan Broadbent
Cover of “Developing Story” album by Alan Broadbent

Alan Broadbent has played in major bands like Charlie Haden’s Quartet West, has made over a dozen strong piano-trio albums, and has won Grammy Awards for his work as an arranger. Developing Story is the high point of his career to date.

The 26-minute title track, in three movements, opens by introducing two themes, a forte figure from the London Metropolitan Orchestra and a solo-piano song. Broadbent the composer derives vast, rich content from these two core ideas, moving them through different sections of the orchestra, in many tempos and textures and levels of intensity. Broadbent the pianist (solo or in a trio with bassist Harvie S and drummer Peter Erskine) keeps inventing new corollaries of these themes. In the second movement, after a graceful piano improvisation in waltz time, the orchestra sweeps in and insists upon the song introduced in the first movement. This simple melodic idea becomes high drama. Only very large ensembles can provide such aural experiences. Broadbent understands a symphony orchestra’s capacity for envelopment, for seductive lushness and for sheer physical power.

Photo of Alan Broadbent
Alan Broadbent (photo by Tony Kellers)

The other tracks are mostly familiar jazz standards, reimagined and magnified. “If You Could See Me Now” has never evolved so slowly and poignantly, in so many colors, all pastel. “Naima” has a new majesty. On “Blue in Green,” the full ensemble provides a deep, rapt atmosphere for Broadbent’s piano variations.

The orchestra and Broadbent’s piano were not recorded together. LMO was in Abbey Road Studios in London; Broadbent recorded his piano parts at Eden River Studio in Neuss, Germany. Developing Story sometimes sounds like a dialogue between a pianist and a large ensemble, rather than an organic integration. But Broadbent plays with such concentrated lyricism that it is a dialogue between equals. The two separate sources, piano and symphony orchestra, form a creative symbiosis. Each would be less beautiful without the other.

Preview, buy or download songs from the album Developing Story by Alan Broadbent and the London Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra on iTunes.

Originally Published