Frank French, piano
CD review by Jack Rummel
Souvenir of Porto Rico / Le Congo / The Flirt / Carmel By The Sea / La Mariposa / New Oriental Darktown Strut / Margarita / Pasquinade / Intermezzo / Chandelier Rag / The Western Drouth / Oh Zez! / La Bamboula.
If you are a collector, as I am, and you own several recordings by a particular artist, typically one recording emerges as your favorite. Of Frank French's many releases, this is the one. It was recorded on quality digital equipment back in 1987, but production snafus have kept it from the market place until now. I was privileged to possess an "underground" cassette which has been worn to the breaking point by repeated playings, so I am thrilled to see it available in compact disc format.
French has long espoused the theory that ragtime comprises but a part of New American Music which emerged from both Americas in the 19th and 20th centuries. His selections reflect this thinking as he takes us upon a musical journey through this boldly colorful musical montage, interweaving rhythms from Brazil, Cuba, New Orleans and Missouri with influences from Africa and Europe. He is one of the very few artists today to regularly program the pre-ragtime works of American Creole Louis Moreau Gottschalk, and the selections here (Souvenir of Porto Rico, Pasquinade and La Bamboula), bristle with "New American" energy.
Le Congo, by the unknown Crescent City composer, J.A. Dawson, is a neglected masterpiece, a slice of life as it occured in Congo Square in New Orleans in 1869. Its pulsating rhythms lead us to two modern-day composers, Hal Isbitz and French himself. Represented here by five compositions (The Flirt, Carmel By The Sea, La Mariposa, Margarita and Chandelier Rag), Isbitz is at the top of his field. The unabashedly romantic Carmel contains in the trio one of the most beautiful passages in all of ragtime's literature; Chandelier Rag, with its haunting lyricism, is close behind. The other three are effervescent tangos, with Margarita being perhaps his best-known work.
It would be worth the price of this CD just to own the Isbitz works, for all are difficult, "high-maintenance" compositions that are heard all too rarely. But there is more. French, also, is a composer of note and his four selections add greatly to the value of this disc. New Oriental Darktown Strut, with its cryptic reference to Vienna, is a most original composition with many exciting new syncopated concepts. Intemezzo, while not truly a rag, blends inventive European voicing with ragtime rhythms. Exploring a minor tonality, The Western Drouth, paints a stark, if upbeat, picture of arid America. The fourth work, Oh Zez!, is a true rapid-fire novelty rag with overt salutes to the pioneer of that genre, Zez Confrey.
While the recording quality is excellent and the liner notes are instructive, it is the diversity of selections and the artistry of the performer that will draw you back again and again to this CD. Few performers can master the Creole concepts of Gottschalk, the tangos of Isbitz, the poetry of a romantic rag, the driving rhythms of a raggy stomper and the dizzy tricks of novelty piano. Frank French can -- and does! This is truly a recording that I never tire of. It has my highest recommendation.
Available for $15.00 plus $2.00 for shipping Frank French, 6420 Woodridge Court, Citrus Heights, CA 95621.