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Album Review: Heartland
John Bickerton
Cover image of the album Heartland by John Bickerton
John Bickerton
2020 / Simple Harmonic Motion
57 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Heartland is an excellent collection of eighteen original piano solos by New York-based pianist/composer John Bickerton. One of the many things that makes this album a stand-out is the variety in the music. Bickerton has a background in both classical composition and jazz improvisation, and the styles on this album include jazz, blues, gospel, contemporary classical, and ambient. Four of the tracks are piano duets where Bickerton plays both parts; the secondo parts were recorded first and then the primo parts were overdubbed. I really like this quote and think it explains the album very well: “My hope was that each piece would evoke a specific sound world as if each song was a soundtrack to its own movie.” Well done!

Along with his solo work, Bickerton has recorded and performed with many jazz artists. From 1998-2018, he owned and managed The UniqueTracks Production Music Library, which licensed music for use in film, video games, apps and advertising. He closed the business to re-enter the music world as a performer after finding it impossible to do both well simultaneously. Lucky us!

Heartland opens with “Daybreak,” a gently-flowing piece that begins very delicately and gradually builds as the sun comes up. “This I Know” takes a different direction into the gospel realm - slow, easy-going and very soulful. “Fields of Heather” is a favorite. Very visual and relaxed, it’s easy to picture fields of heather moving gracefully with a spring breeze. I really like “Quiet Journey,” too, a mysterious whisper of a piece with a repetitive left hand pattern and a melancholy melody. On this piece, the piano strings are damped/partially muted (probably with felt or another soft cloth) to soften the percussive effect of the hammers hitting them, creating a very hushed effect. “One Fine Day” is piano blues with a fun and funky attitude and a great big grin. “Just Fine Thanks” is the first of the duets and is another bluesy favorite. “Midnight Meeting” is a magical sparkling gem that swirls and dances throughout the piece. Next, we encounter the classic piano jazz “N’est ce pas?” - also a duet. “Mysterious Passage” is much more free-form and ambient, juxtaposing dark bass passages with colorful twinkling lights at the high end of the piano keyboard. “Today’s the Day” is a joyful blues piano duet that sounds like a blast to play. Love it! “Fond Remembrance,” a warm and nostalgic look back at a happy memory, is slow, sweet and dreamy. “From the Shadows” returns to a more ambient, mysterious style and is downright spooky! The aptly-titled “Poignant Vistas” is deeply emotional, almost mournful and stunningly beautiful - another favorite. The album closes with the elegant “Something You Said,” a romantic jazz ballad that ends with a sigh.

Heartland is a wonderful introduction to John Bickerton and his music! It is available as a CD or a download from JohnBickerton.com and Amazon as well as digitally from Apple Music/iTunes, Spotify and other streaming sites. Both thumbs up!
November 24, 2020