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Broadbent’s piano is front and center

Special to The Times

Alan Broadbent may be one of the Southland’s most versatile jazz artists. The New Zealand-born pianist-composer-arranger has worked in an extraordinarily wide range of musical settings, from playing piano with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West to conducting an orchestra for Diana Krall.

Unfortunately, his busy schedule -- despite its numerous rewards -- doesn’t often allow him to appear as an instrumentalist in a straight-ahead jazz setting. So it was a particular pleasure to hear him with his trio Thursday night at Spazio, Sherman Oaks’ relaxed and intimate jazz restaurant.

Despite the fact that his musical companions -- bassist Chris Connor and drummer Mike Stephans -- were not his regular associates, Broadbent played with musical mastery. Grant the fact that his technique is a given, that he can play just about anything that pops in his mind, and then add the perspective and overview of a composer-arranger, and that still doesn’t quite describe the appeal of his music. Over and over, his solos offered instantly inventive new melodies filled with attention-grabbing sequences and arching, lyrical phrases -- the product of a sophisticated, intensely communicative mind.

“You’ve Changed,” for example, began with a beautifully textured solo opening, filled with inner movement and Chopinesque harmonic alterations. Up-tempo renderings of “The Man I Love” and “I Remember April” were stunning displays of technical virtuosity at the service of musical invention rather than -- as is more commonly the case -- simply showing off fast fingers. An excursion through “All the Things You Are” via a Lennie Tristano variation on the classic standard was yet another example of Broadbent’s ability to reconstruct familiar material in a fashion that respects the original while uncovering previously unrevealed musical facets.

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Although Connor and Stephans couldn’t quite match the connectivity Broadbent experiences with his frequent associates, bassist Putter Smith and drummer Kendall Kay, they were warmly engaging, creative partners. Connor’s soloing flowed with an ease comparable to Broadbent’s piano lines, and Stephans’ brush playing, in particular, was the product of a sensitive drummer actively involved with the other players.


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