Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
Music of Johnson & His Contemporaries
Genres: Jazz, Special Interest, Classical, Broadway & Vocalists
Similarly Requested CDs
Beautiful, authentic old American brass band music
R. Scharba | Chicago, IL USA | 12/31/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I gather this CD is out of print, but at the time I write this there are a decent amount of used copies for sale here for a very good price. I bought this CD when it was first released, and have always found it an absolute delight. Although it is billed as music of Francis Johnson and other early 19th century Black composers, you're not likely to find anything particularly African-American-sounding about this music. It just sounds sort of like early Americana. Although the liner notes tell of written accounts of the original bands that speak of complex, infectious rhythms and improvisations that the writers of that time found difficult, or impossible, to describe adequately, this long-lost style of improvisational playing cannot be recreated because there is no accurate record of it. In consequence of this the Chestnut Brass, with scholarly discretion, plays these pieces just as written with no speculative improvisation at all. That means that they come out rather rhythmically simple, sounding sort of like antiquated American military music, or music for dancing and social occasions. But even as such, they are beautifully rendered and highly evocative of that long-ago time.
What makes this recording particularly quaint is the sound of the instruments, which are authentic to the historical period of the music. They sound very distinctly different from the bright, loud tone of modern brass. Instead of trumpets, we hear either bugles or cornets, which have a darker, softer tone, seeming almost halfway between that of a modern brass instrument and that of a woodwind. All the other instruments share in that darker, softer tone, and there are occasionally some actual woodwinds thrown in, and even a string or two, for some of the dance pieces.
It would be really fascinating to know what that more rhythmically free, improvisational style of those early 19th century black musicians sounded like. Could it really have been some sort of early-proto ragtime or jazz? I guess we'll never know, but purely as early 19th century American band music, this is a hauntingly beautiful presentation, one of the all-time favorites in my CD collection.