Peter Broderick is a musical polymath; he can probably play more instruments than you can name. He’s also capable of working in many different roles and modes: such as singer-songwriter as seen on last year’s superb Colours of the Night, supporting player as seen on his sister Heather Woods Broderick’s Glider and on Laura Gibson’s Empire Builder (one of the finest songwriter releases of the year thus far). He’s also scored films and dances, composed work for art installations and generally written and released music in a wide variety of different genres.
So the answer to the question ‘Which Peter are we getting on Partners?’ is: Piano Peter. I was lucky enough to see him perform at Green Man last year and so I am well aware of his considerable piano playing prowess. He had somehow managed to talk the festival into transporting a baby grand piano to rural Wales for him to play on: the fluid and solo virtuoso piece that he played as the centrepiece of his set was evidence not just of his ability but also of his love for the instrument.
Partners’ main raison d’etre seems to be to show off Broderick’s considerable piano skills both in terms of performance and composition. Most of the tracks on here would not feel out of place on a Rachel Grimes record. If you enjoyed the recent modern classical compilation on 130701 records then these thoughtful minimal pieces will be right up your street.
Broderick’s voice, stark and intimate, starts the album off as he reads aloud a poem. Apart from a few wordless vocals, his voice then disappears until he sings the very last track. This passing of the baton from voice to piano could perhaps be suggesting that there are things that the piano will express better. The pieces on Partners come from a wide variety of different sources: there is a version of John Cage’s ‘In a Landscape’ and a track ‘Under the Bridge’ which is not a Chilli Peppers cover but Broderick’s attempt to involve chance, though the medium of dice rolls, into the composition process. Despite this variety of sources, there is a definite cohesion to the record: a sense that Broderick is trying to explore threads of feeling throughout.
On first listen the piano parts, regardless of their source, do not seem that difficult: surely anyone with a right hand and a sustain pedal would be able to play that? The general pattern of the tracks though is that the simple pitter-patter fall of notes builds towards something much more complex with a real musical structure and fragile beauty. This is especially evident on ‘Conspiralling’, the finest track on the record with the strongest and most memorable piano melody.
The recording throughout is up close and personal with a real sense of being in the room with Broderick and his piano. The processed and echoing wordless vocals that float through tracks such as ‘Carried’ sound rather as if Broderick is trying to haunt his own LP. The feel of the tracks is meditative and inward-looking but not static. The texture of the music is that of spider-silk: either fragile and cobwebby or tough and resilient depending on how you angle your ears towards it.
It would certainly be hard to argue for Partners being an essential entry in the Peter Broderick discography: the combination of different pieces, some of them covers, some of them influenced by Cage-ian musical processes such as the throwing of dice and some of them from as far back as 2010 suggests that Partners’ real purpose is a bit of shelf-clearing on Broderick’s part. Whatever the source or the vintage though, the piano playing that runs throughout (almost) all of Partners gives it a coherence it would otherwise lack. It is not his finest album, or the one that will win him the most new fans – unlike Colours of the Night
– but for anyone with a love of modern classical and a taste for the expressive flavours of the piano it is a very worthwhile listen.
7Pieter J Macmillan's Score