back to reviews...

Jim Brickman “Hope”

The review I am about to write is special to me both in a personal and in a professional way: even before I started composing my own music, the way that I played the piano was compared to Jim Brickman’s beautiful piano solo style, which I didn't even know at the time.

Three years ago curiosity got the better of me and I purchased Jim's  "Piano Moods" trilogy. Now, three years later, I have come full circle, writing about this very special musician, composer and award-winning pianist.

In his long career Jim collaborated with many other artists, vocalists, songwriters and covered classic songs in his own distinct style, which is sometimes assigned to the "New Age Music" genre. However, Jim himself is sceptical about any attempt to categorize music in this way.

The album “Hope” (released in 2007) is the second in his trilogy “Piano Moods”, which I cherish and am inspired by as much as I can be, getting lost in a beauty of his emotional piano music, both soft and rocking. As the name suggests, the overall sensation derived from the album is positive, uplifting and motivating.

The album begins with the track called “Winter Morning” which opens in a celebratory mood, and includes occasional instrumental additions to the leading piano.

This is followed by “Sundown”, projecting different mood and tempo, closer to my own style: reflective, very spacious, full of travelling harmonies and natural flow of the melody. The beautiful contrasts of high and low register notes in the middle of the track are a particular highlight.

The path of nature continues with “Distant Rain” and this composition gets quite stormy pretty fast. Lovely syncopated accents add to the already rich dynamics of this bright music. Constant moving arpeggios give the composition a feel of speeding up - a restless, emotional mood - while the listener still has some respite from the drama with rests and rocking chords. Playful rhythmic patterns make the music authentic to the title. The beautiful melody goes through many variations and registers of the instrument, giving a solo piano track the feel of entire orchestra to its last drop at the end.

Fourth track is “Daydream”, build of contrasting moods and dynamic nuances: from active to meditative, pure Major harmonies to sustained diminished chords. Fabulous modulation adds both suspense and a victorious feel to finishing lines of this composition.

Open” caught my attention with interesting movement of harmonies in its introduction. It left me wondering which way the tonality will go, as the key switches to many new, positive directions. There is mostly a Major-key, optimistic mood, with vibrant solid phrases and rhythmic melodies - there is a truly modern feel to this music.

Next comes “Inspiration”, including a light strings arrangement on top of the leading piano, singing angelic motif with modulations, build ups and epic cinematic atmosphere.

Reflections” reminded me of my favourite composer Debussy in his “Reverie”: this melody just takes the breath away. But then explosive changes turn it into a modern intrigue. My personal favourite, considering how edgy emotions give you the multidimensional picture of the artist’s state of mind and his talent. Shining motifs, pure soul…

The day we met” has a soft rock pop ballad feel, with the structure of twisting Major to minor, rumbling rocking chords that support the repetitive solid melody. I noticed the well-balanced A-B-A structure, as Jim brilliantly expresses his freedom and expressiveness on the keys. I was surprised by the ending that came back to the home note, instead of some open end challenge.

Sunrise” offers very rich dominant piano lines, naturally blending into light beats and other instrumental voicings threaded through tastefully.

Contemplation” is one of fewer tracks that start in minor harmony, then gradually brightens up into the Major, but with some sadness behind the positive changes. The minimalistic melodic lines sound especially meaningful, considering the title.

The eleventh track, “Beautiful world” was co-written with Tracy Silverman and shows some passionate and slightly less dissonant harmonies than Brickman’s usual style for his solo compositions. The Latin beat in the middle of the track gives it another different characterization.

The Journey” concludes the album with waltzing meter and synthesizer voicing, yet somehow more classical chords and feel - less explosive in a way. There is an interesting quickening of the pace towards the end.

I find this album very inspiring for both pianists and casual listeners. It is rich enough to inspire those who want to dig into little details, yet equally so for those simply getting a good vibe out of listening to it.

Album review by Milana Zilnik
Proof-reading by Arty Sandler