Matthew Davidson, piano
CD review by Jack Rummel
Freakish / Sweet Lorraine / Chandalier (sic) Rag / Crying for the Carolines* / Whippoorwill Hollow / Pleasant Point - Rag Verismo / 400 Roncesvalles Avenue / Pad Thai and Sala / Desdemona / I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling* / Old Streets / Kitchen Tom / Perdido Bay Moon Rag* / Satisfied Blues / Voodoo Queen. (*Contains vocals)
Expect the unexpected! That might well be the credo for this and other recordings by Matthew Davidson. The artist once remarked to me that he abhorred ragtime performances that were repetitious and boring and would ever strive to avoid such in his own recordings. Through his use of altered rhythms, forsaken repeats, modern harmonies, occasional vocal passages and certainly by exploring the complete dynamic range of the piano, I'm here to tell you that he has succeeded in exceptional fashion. While you may not always agree with his interpretations, the word "boring" will not come to your mind as you listen to these artistic performances.
This release, the third by Davidson in almost as many years, is an eclectic mix of piano rags, jazzy pop tunes and a lone blues. It's a solid, well-conceived offering with energy that never flags. As a virtuoso pianist, Davidson has few peers in the ragtime field. His playing is clean and precise and he can jump from a fortissimo to a pianissimo in a heartbeat. By the end of the album you have the feeling that every ivory on the keyboard has been used and that every note and chord was played exactly the way he wanted it played.
In Freakish, Davidson captures Morton's sense of "urgency" while still making the piece his own. An art-ish interpretation is given to Hal Isbitz's Chandelier Rag, while Donald Ashwander's Old Streets and Perdido Bay Moon Rag receive reverent readings. Whippoorwill Hollow, by Galen Wilkes, is lush and perhaps reminiscent of Joe Lamb; with Kitchen Tom, the brashness that was Eubie Blake is all there and it wins my vote for best cut on the CD. Desdemona, by Glenn Jenks, gets an effective slow swing treatment and Voodoo Queen, a collaboration between Ashwander and Davidson, is appropriately sinister and attention-getting.
Of the jazzy pop standards, Sweet Lorraine receives a cocktail-styled performance, Crying for the Carolines is upbeat and borders on stride and I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling features '20s style jazz piano. Satisfied Blues, the lone entry in this genre, is thickly textured and lives up to its name.
I feel inadequate in trying to describe the three compositions by Davidson himself. His sketchy liner notes refer to melodies adapted from a Leoncavallo opera and from a Bruckner symphony. I'm sure that there are lots of complex and meaningful musical concepts going on here, but I am not musically literate enough to grasp them. Pleasant Point is slow and languid, but to me the dissonant harmonies belie the name. 400 Roncesvalles Avenue is a slow mix of the modern and the familiar, while Pad Thai and Sala gives a contemporary twist to Morton's "Spanish tinge." These certainly would not be labeled Nostalgia Rags!
All in all, this is an interesting package. There is a good selection of material, his pianistic skills border on awesome and even his three vocals make for pleasant listening. I would have preferred more extensive liner notes (only six of the 15 selections receive any mention) but that's a small point. Whether or not you like his artistic interpretations becomes a matter of personal choice, but one thing is clear: Matthew Davidson does not play apathetic or lukewarm ragtime!
Available for $15.00 plus $2.00 shipping from Matthew Davidson, 121 East Green, #3 East, Bensenville, IL 60106.