Canadian pianist John Bickerton's debut recording on CIMP won't bowl over anyone anticipating pianistic fireworks. Although Bickerton's studied and worked in the bop arena, this CD's emphasis is on collective playing and group response rather than individualistic displays. Bickerton utilizes clusters, chords and fragments while ranging over the keyboard. He creates sound montages in which he, bassist Wilber Morris and drummer Rashid Bakr converge, separate and eventually reconfigure. The compositions often develop slowly before exploding, while other times either Bickerton, Morris or Bakr will become the dominant figure, directing the others toward a resolution.
Whenever the word avant-garde gets attached to any session, there's an immediate tendency to think distortion and extremes. While Bickerton can and sometimes does utilize the piano's percussive aspects, he's a very melodic, soothing player. Morris sometimes strums and darts on bass, but he never fails to provide the requisite background and harmonic foundation essential to keep the music from unfolding. Drummer Bakr has the toughest task. None of these tunes features the kind of established, familiar rhythms that usually appear even in outside sessions. Bakr has to simultaneously steer the sound and also respond to Bickerton's direction. He succeeds, although sometimes things get a bit ragged.
Bickerton wrote and arranged every number, and is just as unorthodox a composer as a player. There are no rigid progressions or patterns in his tunes. Rather than concern himself with time, Bickerton's more interested in space. These songs sometimes seem to ooze, other times plod, but they never become limp or light. The listener who pays close attention to the trio's playing will be rewarded. The John Bickerton Trio isn't making anything that can be hummed in the shower, but they do offer a significant alternative for those so interested.