David Thomas Roberts, piano
CD review by Jack Rummel
Introduction / Decatur Street / Burgundy Street / Franklin Avenue / Jackson Avenue/ Waltz /Napoleon Avenue / Magazine Street / Toulouse Street / Annunciation Street / Broad Avenue / Interlude / Fontainbleau Drive / Revenge / Farewell.
This work defies easy description, yet it is a significant a work as has ever been released by a ragtime composer, perhaps standing by comparison to Joplin's publication of his opera, Treemonisha. It is an intensely personal portrait of a city that for many years was a second home to David Thomas Roberts, and while not strictly ragtime, elements of ragtime are noted throughout.
Adjectives run rampantly through my mind as I listen to this music. Roberts himself says in his accompanying notes, "I doubt that many listeners in the Western world can hear New Orleans Streets without registering its negativity," and there is truth to that. But I also hear joy with the sorrow, awe with the anger, beauty with the ugliness, fear that the city is decaying from within coupled with the optimism that it will somehow survive.
In addition to the ragtime elements you will find influences from Latin American music, traditional jazz, European Romanticism, rock 'n' roll and other modalities that have shaped Roberts' musical thinking, as well as that of New Orleans itself, over the years. Specific composers are represented, too, and selections may cause you to think of Jelly Roll Morton, Frederic Chopin or James Booker.
The Introduction, with its Spanish tinge, is very Mortonesque. This leads to a haunting habaņera, Decatur Street, with its marked classicism, which, in turn, is supplanted by the relentless, dancing Burgundy Street, and its fiery rhythms.
Next we hear, Franklin Avenue, a finely crafted, romantic DTR rag, leading us onward to Jackson Avenue, which is slow, somber and full of hymn-like chords and progressions (Repent, o city, before it is too late!). A Chopinesque Waltz guides us to Napoleon Avenue, which opens with child-like innocence, turning to happy, almost optimistic exhuberence which may well prepare us for a forthcoming descent into darkness.
Magazine Street is a shadowy tango, deriving its despair (as does much of this suite) from the city's significant, albeit decaying, architecture, especially in the Lower Garden District. Our emotional roller-coaster then takes an upturn as we enter Toulouse Street, with its dominant rock 'n' roll driven by the ghost of Booker himself. Annunciation Street offer pathos edged with hymn-like hope as we progress to Broad Avenue with more Morton and more rock 'n' roll.
The Latin beat which becomes more frenzied in Interlude is balanced by the brief ray of sunshine that is Fontainbleau Drive, and leads to the controlled rage of Revenge, where one can almost feel feet striking the pavement as the composer paces his beloved city. A Latin Farewell closes this remarkable work on an optimistic note.
The suite is well recorded and Roberts was in fine pianistic form. An example of his artwork graces the cover and his erudite line notes display skilled prose, giving us a well-rounded picture of this multifaceted genious. It should establish David Thomas Roberts as one of the 20th century's outstanding young composers. This is a staggering work and should appeal to a wide audience, but most especially ragtimers. It is a recording not to be missed.
Available for $17 postpaid from David Thomas Roberts, P.O. Box 5243, Kreole Station, Moss Point, MS 39563.