02 Brian DickinsonBallads
Brian Dickinson
Modica Music (modicamusic.bandcamp.com/album/ballads)

Although I have not had the good fortune to perform with the great pianist Brian Dickinson often, I do remember one opportunity in Vancouver that was both memorable and instructive. Between tunes, the band fielded questions from an audience that was comprised largely of music students. After one particularly inspired cascading passage of improvised up-tempo 16th notes by Dickinson, a student asked the Canadian pianist how he approached these sorts of speedy extemporizations. His answer, which was both practical and hilariously banal, was that one should take all the musical language that one knows how to do using eighth notes and simply play them twice as fast. I have learned a lot from Brian over the years, both as a colleague at work, but also by listening to him play live, and I found this advice to be eminently prudent.

I was reminded of this exchange while enjoying Dickinson’s terrific new recording Ballads, which features nine gorgeous solo piano pieces recorded on a beautiful Yamaha C7 during the COVID lockdown of 2020. I wondered if Dickinson would describe playing solo piano as like playing with a rhythm section, but only without one. Although I have not asked Brian about this, I imagine that the answer would be “no.” As is evident on this recommended 2023 release, Dickinson is fulfilling many roles as a solo pianist, coaxing forward the expansive and expressive range of the instrument as only an artist of his level of accomplishment is capable. The entire listening experience is pleasurable. Dickinson plays with the dependable greatness that jazz fans have come to expect from him, and the fact that this recording is a touching dedication to the late great jazz vocalist and educator Shannon Gunn makes it all the more special. 

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