REVIEW: Alan Broadbent and the Mark Nightingale Big Band at The Apex Theatre, Bury St Edmunds

Alan Broadbent


Alan Broadbent and the Mark Nightingale Big Band
(The Apex Theatre, Bury St Edmunds. 18 November. Review by Frank Griffith)

Pianist and composer/arranger Alan Broadbent, along with the Mark Nightingale Big Band was on form on Tuesday. He is visiting the UK for a brief tour to inaugurate his recently released CD, made with the NDR Big Band, who are based in Hamburg. What form it was too, as Nightingale's band shone brightly, presenting Broadbent’s hugely varied range of compositions, sent into orbit with an excellent bevy of powerful soloists drawn from the band.

Born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1947, Alan immigrated to the USA in 1965 to attend the Berklee School of Music in Boston which pretty much led directly to a 3 year apprenticeship with Woody Herman. He contributed dozens of scores to the Herd library a few of which were performed tonight. Since then, he settled in LA and served as arranger and conductor for many singers like Irene Kral, Natalie Cole, and Diana Krall as well as recently departed bassist Charlie Haden’s Quartet West.

Nightingale’s exemplary band sported a stunning cast of players, too numerous to list but included the likes of trumpeters, Si Gardner and Martin Shaw, the leader’s trombone and saxists Andy Panayi, Sam Mayne and Ben Castle. All were featured healthily in solo roles. Bassist Sam Burgess and the ubiquitous Ian Thomas on drums handled the rhythm chores more than ably.

Not to be underestimated are Alan’s pianistic skills as both a soloist and accompanist. His light-fingered and flawless technique coupled with a rhapsodic expressiveness covering the full range (88 keys and counting) of the “orchestra” of instruments was sublime with its grandeur. His extended solo rendition of Body and Soul as an encore was a stunning example of this. A real tour de force sparkled with modulations, tempo changes and a glorious “codenza” (dramatic ending) to effectively put the evening to bed.

From a writer’s point of view,  Broadbent is truly remarkable in his juxtaposition of rich and lush harmonies with orchestration. He frequently utilises orchestral woodwinds (flutes and clarinets) with softer brass textures (mutes, flugelhorns) which helps mellow the somewhat strident harmonies that he employs. This is nicely offset by the full saxy and brassy settings of his in your face bebop swingers such as Sonnys Step (dedicated to the late bop pianist, Sonny Clark) and Bebop and Roses, a staple of the Woody Herman library.

Mr Broadbent was not parsimonious with his addresses to the audience speaking quite movingly of his former leaders, Herman, Haden and Kral. He pointed out that Haden was such an effective bandleader for his ability to put diverse musicians together and create something well above the sum of its parts. He then performed his treatment of a piece he wrote for Quartet West, The Long Goodbye, which had a lyric added by London vocalist, Georgia Mancio, the very first fruits of a songwriting partnership which will have its debut at Pizza Express Dean Street next week.

A glorious night of new sounds provided by the best in the business. Kudos also to Kathryn Shackleton of the Watermill who conceived and organised this tour for Alan and lets hope that this can become an annual event.

DATES: Alan Broadbent with Georgia Mancio 26th November at Pizza Express Dean Street 

Mark Nightingale Big Band, Watermill in Dorking  27th November (to be recorded by the BBC for an upcoming broadcast/ SOLD OUT.)

LINK: Alan Broadbent interview about this tour

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