Pianist and composer John Bickerton has been absent from active recording since his 1999 Shadow Boxes (Leo Records). That trio outing established his proficiency at blending lyricism, free jazz and the avant-garde as he had done on his previous release Drinking from the Golden Cup (Loud Neighbors Music, 1997). He returns almost twenty years later with the solo piano release Submerged.
Bickerton is a native of Ontario, Canada who had studied with pianist JoAnne Brackeen and he holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Boston University. He has written music for Off-Broadway productions, television and commercial licensing. His musical performance career began with a three year residency in the 1980s, at a now defunct New York café called Caliban. It was that experience that exposed him to artists such as Valery Ponomarev, Eddie Henderson and Rashid Bakr (Charles Downs), a free jazz drummer who had recorded two albums with Cecil Taylor. Bakr was part of Bickerton's Shadow Boxes trio and played on Bickerton's trio debut Open Music (CIMP, 1999).
The opening "Psalm" and "That's What They'll Tell You" are the two Bickerton originals on Submerged. "Psalm" begins with a straight-forward melody that the pianist nudges along into more open territory the radically deconstructs the composition before returning to the theme. The second piece has an underlying blues feel bookending a wildly creative improvisation. Ornette Coleman's "Mob Job" is taken at a slower pace in comparison to the Coleman/Pat MethenySong X (Geffen, 1986) version. Bickerton takes on an unusual trio of pop/rock songs as well. The first is the Led Zeppelin classic, "Going to California" and at more than ten-minutes, Bickerton takes his time moving from a ballad to a resourceful improvisation that leaves just enough of the piece intact. Neil Young's "Sugar Mountain" is approached with what now becomes a clear pattern of setting up, breaking down, and then returning to the structured composition. The Beatles "Within You, Without You" (George Harrison) was overtly influenced by Indian music in its original form. In Bickerton's rendition, the album's closing piece is classically influenced giving it an entirely different disposition.
Much of the fun in listening to Submerged comes from the eclectic content. Fans of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page may take umbrage at tinkering with the Zeppelin catalog, especially Plant's very personal, slightly veiled, tribute to Joni Mitchell. But Bickerton deserves credit for reinventing rock classics that have been largely left alone by jazz musicians. The pianist has drawn comparisons to a number of his modern peers but his style has an intangible quality that warrants listening.
Psalm, Mob Job, Going to California, That's What They'll Tell You, Sugar Mountain,
Within You Without You.
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