Jim Brickman in concert.
Jim Brickman, a commercial jingle writer, radio host and full time musician, brought his talents with the piano to Capitol Theater in Salt Lake City, Utah for a concert and PBS special. Windham Hill has released the concert, with footage not seen on television, to DVD. I'm not familiar with this distributor, but they did a fine job with this DVD.
I have to confess I'd never even heard of Jim Brickman before receiving this DVD. So I had no idea what I was in for. What I heard was a piano player with a high degree of skill specializing in romantic and easy listening music with a soft pop leaning. Coming from a rock and roll background, I knew quickly enough that this wasn't my cup of tea. But music is such a subjective experience that I will comment on the talent and proficiency without injecting my own personal musical tastes into the review, at least as much as possible.
So let me comment on talent and proficiency. Jim Brickman is a fine piano player, with a sure knowledge of the niche he is trying to fill. He isn't the best pianist I've ever heard by a long shot, but that is not meant as an insult. He's not playing the most demanding pieces to show off what he is capable of, while some classical pianists I've heard chose such pieces to demonstrate the full range of their talent. So to some degree I can't judge his limits. His music is best described as "pretty"; a pleasant interlude that flows nicely. Much of the concert was made up of pure instrumental pieces fitting this description. For other pieces, varied instruments and performers accompanied him, from a string quartet to electric violinist Tracy Scott Silverman, my personal favorite of the guest performers.
Some other pieces had lyrics and Brickman had other friends and performers to help. Noteworthy artists included Olivia Newton-John, Donny Osmond, and saxophonist Dave Koz. In what appeared to be a first for Brickman, he also provided his own vocals later in the concert. His singing voice was pleasant and steady, though I'm sure he realizes he is a better piano player than singer.
The concert lasted about 75 minutes, with 18 pieces performed. Apparently his biggest hit is a romantically sentimental number called "The Gift," which was sung by Donny Osmond and Brickman's long time friend and collaborator Anne Cochran. The theater had a beautiful look with a lot of polished wood and tastefully lit stage. Certainly the audience was very familiar with his work and enthusiastically greeted and applauded each number.
The DVD presentation of the concert was quite good, especially considering the concert was done for television. The full frame transfer was sharp with vivid colors, deep blacks, and no artifacts. Everything had a clear, transparent look that let the music be the primary sensory input. In this case the most important thing with the picture was not to distract, and it didn't.
As in any concert DVD, the sound is the most important factor, and this disc did not disappoint. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix was done to simulate being a member of the audience in the center of the concert hall. The front soundstage was wide and spacious and lent a great level of clarity and expansiveness to the sound, while the rear surrounds were set for the "bounce-back" from the rear wall and the audience sounds came from all around. This was a good choice for this type of concert rather than trying to put you on the stage among the musicians. The soundtrack had a high degree of fidelity, with even the softest notes being clearly heard. First rate work.
Extra content isn't especially extensive, but what is there is adequate. First up is a text biography, which told me basically all I know of Jim Brickman's life and history. He's done several albums and has quite a following, along with hosting a weekly syndicated radio show featuring contemporary music. Two minutes of his music accompanies a photo gallery, which appears to be stills from the concert. I was less enthused with this as the stills didn't have the same image quality as it would have had I just paused the disc while the concert played. Last, a bonus music video of "The Gift" in Dolby Stereo also doesn't hold up as well as the live performance of the same song. The image quality was very grainy and the sound rather flat in comparison.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I liked the music best when Brickman had accompaniment, such as the string quartet, the electric violin, or Dave Koz's alto sax. While he can certainly carry a tune by himself with the piano, I quickly grew tired of just hearing the one instrument. This is a personal observation, and won't apply to those who really like hearing a piano alone for several numbers in a row.
Hopefully you know whether Donny Osmond or Olivia Newton-John is your cup of tea. They sing several songs separately and together, and I demonstrated my level of commitment to you the reader in listening to every minute of it. I won't do it again. This applies to the concert as a whole; I knew right away that this was far too syrupy and sentimental for my taste. However, many people like this type of music, and Jim Brickman has many fans, so I should reinforce that if this is something you like the disc will fit in your collection like a glove.
I have little to complain about concerning the disc itself, but a couple things come to mind. First, the case says there are multiple angles as a feature on the disc, but I saw no place anywhere that used it. Considering the small number of people playing at any time there wouldn't be much use for multiple angles anyway, but I don't like missing features. Perhaps someone will let me know that I simply missed them. My other complaint is the lack of what I consider to be a major feature on any concert disc; namely the availability of lyrics as subtitles. Only seven of the 18 pieces had lyrics, but being able to read or sing along with the words would be a nice touch, and something I applaud whenever I see it.
Easy listening fans and those who want music to put on as background when entertaining a lady friend will want to consider picking this one up. Those who don't know Jim Brickman anymore than I did might want to rent it first and see if this is your type of concert.
Jim Brickman is absolutely acquitted. He does what he does well, and I can't complain that his niche audience doesn't include me. Windham Hill is commended for their fine work on this DVD, and I hope to hear more from them (with perhaps classical music) in the future. Court is adjourned.
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