The Terra Verde Corner

Early Tangos to New Ragtime
David Thomas Roberts, piano

CD review by Jack Rummel

PianoMania CD-122

Odeon / Matuto / Rapid Transit / Bee Hive Rag / The Naked Dance / For Molly Kaufmann / The Show-Me Rag / The Nonpareil / Mississippi River Boulevard / Shoe Fly / Memories Of A Missouri Confederate / Belle of Louisville / Morelia / Esta Chumbado / Escovado / The Big Man / Mississippi Soul / The Queen of North Missouri / Ravenna.

I believe this to be an album David Thomas Roberts has wanted to record for a long time. He has "collected" these pieces, if you will, on his journey of musical discovery, and they are presented here with admiration and affection. His own included compositions underscore that feeling, as per a child brought into the world that is wanted and loved.

The unmistakeable syncopation in the tangos of Ernesto Nazareth (Odeon, Matuto, Esta Chumbado, Escovado) certainly reinforces the probability that today's ragtime had a "pan American" heritage. The four selections by this "Brazilian Joplin", all markedly different, yet similar in their vitality and inventiveness, seem right at home with the rest of the album.

Early ragtime is also featured. Scott Joplin, undoubtedly an influence on all of today's composers, gives us in The Nonpareil a stately grounding in our classic ragtime roots. The Jackson/Morton ultra-fast Naked Dance is essentially a relentless "theme and variations", but without the nude gyrations to fuel the frenzy, it becomes a bit monotonous. The two Joseph Lamb rags at first seem out of place, but knowing the artist's desire to document obscure works of ragtime pioneers, it is only logical to find them included. Rapid Transit, with its minor opening strain, is folkish and not as sophisticated as his Stark-published pieces, yet still has the Lamb allure. Bee Hive Rag, making a recording debut, is more mature and is reminiscent of vintage Lamb.

Of the new non-Roberts ragtime, three bear a dedication to the artist (Morelia, The Big Man, Mississippi Soul), acknowledging the influence that this composer has had on his peers. Certainly in the field of the modern-day tango, Hal Isbitz has no equal and his Morelia is a lovely inclusion. Jack Rummel's Mississippi Soul is upbeat and folky, while in The Big Man by Tom McDermott, the dissonances are haunting but not repelling.

The other "new ragtime" is harder to categorize. Roberts describes Trebor Tichenor's great Show-Me Rag as "bluegrass piano" and that says it all. In contrast, Mississippi River Boulevard by Brian Keenan is a poignant rag that, on first brush, could have been written by Roberts himself (especially the trio). I predict that Keenan will soon be a major voice in ragtime. Not in recent years has there emerged a noted composer as Scott Kirby with as much to say in a language that is unmistakably his own. Ravenna, utterly captivating, is his finest recorded work to date.

With the Roberts compositions, the best is saved for the last. Shoo Fly is just plain fun. Roberts' adaptation of this Appalachian fiddle tune is one of the best piano renditions of the fiddle's fretless slides and double stops I've ever heard. For Molly Kaufmann, one of his most voluptuous works, blends 19th century Romanticism with 20th century new ragtime. The Queen of North Missouri is Roberts through and through, another example of his romanticism at which he excels. And with Memories of A Missouri Confederate we have a serious challenge to the status of his beloved 1980 composition, Through The Bottomlands. It may well emerge as his all-time best work.

With this album, David Roberts again reminds us that he can be master of many different styles and the champion of the ragtime of today. The liner notes are illuminative and the recorded sound is excellent. There's something for everyone here and it should please even the most discriminating buyer.

Available in CD format only for $15.00 plus $2.00 per order shipping from PianoMania Music, 8300 Sierra College Blvd., Suite D, Roseville, CA 95661 or call (916) 791-8079.


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