Landscapes of the Heart
2016 / Gary Schmidt
Review by Kathy Parsons
Landscapes of the Heart is the fourth album from pianist/composer Gary Schmidt. Produced by Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton, the album features eleven original pieces and two of Erik Satie’s “Gnossiennes.” Five of the pieces are solo piano and others feature artists from the stellar group of musicians who are often featured on Ackerman’s productions. Subtitled “Piano-based meditations,” the music is uncluttered, quiet, and very beautiful. Colorado seems to be the home of a growing number of outstanding musicians, and the Canadian-born Gary Schmidt is no exception. Self-taught until college, Schmidt has a very expressive touch and a lovely sense of composition. Except for one track, as I will explain below, this album would have easily been my next “Pick,” but I have to really like all of the tracks to make an album a “Pick.”
Landscapes of the Heart begins with “The Beauty We Love,” a wonderful piano and cello (Eugene Friesen) duet that is warm, uplifting, and very expressive - definitely a favorite! “When the Silence Speaks” is the first of the piano solos and reminds me of some of the Mozart and Haydn pieces I learned as a piano student. “Reaching For Romance” was co-written with Friesen and is another stellar duet for piano and cello (I love piano and cello together!). Deeply emotional and bittersweet, I can feel the pulse-quickening of new love, a little tentative fear, and an abundance of hope - another favorite. “Waltz in Two Four” is an interesting concept because waltzes are almost always in 3/4. (Some measures have three beats, but not many.) Charlie Bisharat and his violin add heart and soul to any music, and he plays this one to perfection. “A Blanket of White” is a piano solo and perfectly depicts the quiet stillness of new snow and the peaceful atmosphere it creates. Up next is the piece I have a problem with, “You Already Have Wings,” a trio for piano, guitar (Ackerman) and English horn (Jill Haley). I love the first couple of minutes, which are solo piano, but then Schmidt repeats the same measure for more than 2 1/2 minutes as the other two musicians play over that. As a pianist, I always concentrate on the piano part, and the repetition drives me nuts. The next two tracks are Satie’s “Gnossiennes” #1 and #5. I love Satie's “Gnossiennes” and “Gymnopedies” and Schmidt plays them as written, perfect little gems that they are. “Restless” has a similar expressive feeling to the Satie tracks - simple, melancholy, and dark. This is a Schmidt original, and Haley adds mournful embellishments throughout - another favorite. “A Dawn I Remember” starts elevating the mood again and Bisharat adds his own graceful style. “This New Day” becomes buoyant and joyful as a piano/cello duet. “Solus” brings the album to a gentle close with a hymn-like solo that is peaceful, very expressive, and ends with a musical “amen.”
With the exception of the one track that I find monotonous, Landscapes of the Heart is truly a beautiful album! It is available from www.apianist.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!
August 2, 2016