Brian Keenan, piano
CD review by Jack Rummel
(printed in the November 1996 issue of "The Rag Times").
North Star / Whitewater / Waiting For The Zenith / Over The Lake Street Bridge / The Milwaukee Road / Dixon / Mississippi River Boulevard / Last Stop Before Anchorage / Plangente.
There's a new ragtime kid on the block and he's good! Brian Keenan, still wet behind the ears after recently graduating from the University of Colorado School of Music, acquits himslef very well on his first recorded effort and I predict his name will soon appear on the ragtime festival circuit, too.
This disc features six Keenan originals, plus choice selections by John Hancock (Dixon), Ernesto Nazareth (Plangente) and Jack Rummel (Waiting For The Zenith). The sound is clean and the performances are first-rate. My only compaint is the shortness of the album: forty-six minutes just doesn't cut it in the world of ragtime recordings where the standard seems to be an hour or more.
Of his originals, Keenan cites influence from most of today's better composers, but it is echoes of David Thomas Roberts that I hear most clearly. Keenan is proud of his Minnesota heritage, as is noted by his choices for titles. North Star, a lush habanera, weaves gently between major and minor and sets the stage that a significant new composer is represented on this CD. Whitewater may be the literal translation for "minnesota", but it's Missouri folk ragtime all the way. The influence of Brun Campbell and, ultimately, Roberts, is there. The haunting Over The Lake Street Bridge has a melody that seems to wander a bit but becomes more meaningful upon additional playings.
The Milwaukee Road, an ode to one of the northernmost transcontinental train routes, is up-tempo with both feet firmly in the Missouri camp, evidenced by a tip-o'-the-hat to Trebor Tichenor. Keenan's best-known work to date, Mississippi River Boulevard, again shows the influence of Roberts yet is very much Keenan's own voice. (Roberts, by the way, has recorded it). Last Stop Before Anchorage, a tongue-incheek reference to the Minnesota climate, is actually a moderately-paced, distinctive blend of European Romanticism with touches of folk music.
Of the non-Keenan works, I must admit a partiality to my own composition, Waiting For The Zenith. It is a slow reading, but it gets top marks in my book. Dixon, the finest effort from that Missouri composer-turned-politician, swings us lightly and lyrically back to the town of Hancock's grandparents. Keenan describes Nazareth's Plangente as "...longing, pleading, hopeless..." and I can think of no better words. It truly touches the viscera, a lonely Latin-based farewell.
But it had better not be farewell forever. Brian Keenan is a voice to be reckoned with and will surely make himself heard as we cross over into a new century of ragtime. A highly recommended first effort.