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Landscapes Of The Heart
By Gary Schmidt
Label: Self Released
Released 6/17/2016
Landscapes Of The Heart tracks
1. The Beauty We Love
2. When the Silence Speaks
3. Reaching into Romance
4. Waltz in 2/4
5. A Blanket of White
6. You Already Have Wings
7. Gnossienne no. 1
8. Gnossienne no. 5
9. Restless
10. A Dawn I Remember
11. This New Day
12. Between Two Worlds
13. Solus
Gary Schmidt-Landscapes of the Heart
The beauty of the cover art for pianist Gary Schmidt’s album, Landscapes of the Heart, struck me when I saw it for the first time. There is an inherent simplicity in that beauty. The image is of a snowy landscape viewed from inside, every color either white or a shade of gray except for the bright green plant which sits on the interior window sill. I can’t exactly define why this image seems to encapsulate Schmidt’s music, and I have puzzled over this issue for a long time (before starting this review). Suffice it to say that somehow, the simple, yet stark, contrast of the snowscape set against the vibrancy of the green plant captures how something relatively uncomplex still retains the ability to move me. I bet that sounds pretentious, and I am sorry if it does, because it is meant to be anything but.

To start with, Schmidt recorded the album at Imaginary Road Studios, working with the Ackerman/Eaton production team, so you know how good the album will sound (with rare exceptions, the music is, at times, subtle and low key, so you may think some "brightness" is missing, but that is because of the compositions and performance, not anything to do engineering, mixing or mastering). Scattered throughout the album’s thirteen tracks are guest appearances from the IR Studios’ usual suspects: Charlie Bisharat on violin, Eugene Friesen on cello, Jill Haley on English horn, Noah Wilding on vocals, as well as Ackerman and Eaton themselves (on guitar and bass, respectively). I hope I don’t need to comment on these well-established players’ talents, as they always bring their "A" game and they do it here too, of course."

All thirteen tracks are composed by Schmidt, with the except of two pieces by the minimalist composer Erik Satie ("Gnossienne 1" and "Gnossienne 5") and one of the songs is co-composed by Schmidt and Friesen ("Reaching into Romance"). As stated earlier, much of the music has s soft, flowing quality, with little or no discernible drama or overt power, so this would be a great background album for relaxation, contemplation, or daydreaming. There are subtle classical influences here and there (the best example is on the aptly-titled "Waltz in 2/4"), and if I were to describe the emotional mood of the music, I would waffle between romantic, nostalgic, and warmly reflective (as opposed to melancholic or somber). The two Satie pieces (especially the first one), however, do break that mold to a certain degree, but not in such a way as to be overly distracting, but if you find the first of the two tracks "darkens" the rest of the album’s mood, you can program it out of the playback sequence (if using a CD player, that is). I never had an issue with this, personally, but I did notice the shift in mood when I listened to the album. Also, "This New Day," which comes near the end of the recording, has a slightly more energetic pace and feel to it, but only relatively speaking to the other tracks here.

Landscapes of the Heart appears to be Gary Schmidt’s third album and I sure hope it will not be his last. If you are seeking piano music (both solo and ensemble) for quiet times that keeps everything low-key, yet inviting and accessible, I strongly recommend you seek out this fine recording and add it to your collection.
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 3/4/2017
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