New World Piano Music
Frank French, Scott Kirby
and David Thomas Roberts, piano
CD review by Jack Rummel
Washington County Breakdown / Columbine / Bucktown Buck / For Robin Holtz Williams / The Banjo / Searchlight Rag / Fontainebleau Drive / La Cumbia / Pineapple Rag / Kansas City Stomp / Paramount Rag / The Alaskan (sic) / Myosotis / Original Rags / Gladiolus Rag / Troubador Rag / 4th of July Medley.
Ian Whitcomb, the madcap commentator on the syncopated scene, has dubbed them "the bad boys of ragtime". Individually and collectively they have shown irreverence towards the status quo, but Frank French, Scott Kirby and David Thomas Roberts, ragtime's "young guard", have succeded like no others in pushing this music into new frontiers. They each subscribe to the theory of New World Music, acknowledging the influence of European as well as Pan American composers in their performances and in their compositions.
The album title is apt, but it is possible to define a new frontier without reference to the stages that preceded it, so we find classic examples among the newer works. Joplin, Scott and Lamb, the archetypal triumvirate, are represented, as are Louis Gottschalk, Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth, Jelly Roll Morton and Eubie Blake. The three performers are represented equally and each turns in performances of both old and new works. Everything is shuffled together into a pleasant and varied program; however, it might be easier for purposes of this review to consider each artist's contributions collectively.
Roberts opens the CD with his folkish and bluegrassy Wahington County Breakdown. When his turn comes again, the mood sharply changes as we hear his intensely and personally romantic For Robin Holtz Williams. The album's first hint of Latin rhythm then appears in his Fontainebleau Drive, an excerpt from his larger "New Orleans Streets Suite" which, in its brevity, gives the effect of a Chopin prelude. He then moves on to Morton's Kansas City Stomps, a tune by a composer who certainly synthesized his North and South American musical influences into a unique amalgamation. Nazareth's Myosotis is next, an evocative tango and yet another root of New World Music. Roberts closes his eclectic set with a grand if literal performance of Joplin's Gladiolous Rag.
French is equally far-reaching in his programming. His Bucktown Buck is a sprightly stomper - in "medium bucktime", actually - and is respectfully in the Morton mold. He is also known for his Gottschalk programs, so the inclusion of The Banjo is a logical one, although his performance loses some cohesiveness at the end. French is certainly at home with any Latin rhythm and in La Cumbia, after a somewhat bombastic introduction, he takes us quickly on a delightful excursion into the cumbia rhythm of Central America. Two selections by James Scott appear, Paramount Rag and Troubadour Rag, and both are well-played, straight-ahead interpretations. Joplin's Original Rags is another story, however, as French effectively doctors it as per the imaginative mind of Jelly Roll Morton.
Kirby closes the album with a 4th of July Medley, where, in the great grandstanding tradition of Eubie Blake, he cleverly melds America The Beautiful, You're A Grand Old Flag, and Stars and Stripes Forever into a patriotic firework. His other contributions are more quite. Columbine, a languid and introspective rag dedicated to, and no doubt influenced by, contemporary composer Hal Isbitz, is Kirby's only included composition and it makes us yearn for more. His stately reading of Searchlight Rag and his inventive interpretation of Pineapple Rag each do justice to the venerable Joplin. And his performance of Lamb's Alaskan Rag is a sensitive playing of an exceptionally rich score.
"Bad boys" they may be named, but bad performers they aren't. They have each programmed early selections that fit their interpretive reputations, whether it be David Roberts for Morton, Frank French for Scott or Scott Kirby for Joplin. Each has included works of his own that are on the cutting edge of New Ragtime. And all have contributed to the extensive and insightful descriptions that accompany this album. Join then as they open some musical frontiers for you.
Available in CD format only for $15.00 plus $2.00 per order shipping from PianoMania Music, 8300 Sierra College Boulevard, Suite D, Roseville, CA 95661 or call (916) 791-8079.