Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
American Beauty: A Ragtime Bouquet
Genres: Jazz, New Age, Classical
The collection of classic and original rags offered by Gary Smart on this recording celebrates the lyrical side of this quintessentially American music. The ragtime genre is diverse, more so than the casual listener might ... more »
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The collection of classic and original rags offered by Gary Smart on this recording celebrates the lyrical side of this quintessentially American music. The ragtime genre is diverse, more so than the casual listener might think. There is the folk rag tradition, the brilliant, aggressive Eastern rag tradition, and the many interesting takes on ragtime composition that span the entire twentieth century from Artie Mathews to Charles Ives to William Albright and beyond. But Scott Joplin s classical musicality remains the source of Smart s inspiration. Joplin s marriage of a singing African-American rhythmic polyphony with the harmonic and textural structures of the European classical tradition is dazzling in its effectiveness and Mozartian in its elegance.
Some Old Favorites, Some Rarities, and Some New Rags by Pian
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 07/03/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My love for Joplin's rags goes way back to my childhood; 'Maple Leaf Rag' and 'Gladiolus Rag' were two that I frequently played in public and always got a positive response, even from musically unsophisticated audiences. On this CD we have 'Gladiolus Rag' and in his notes pianist/composer Gary Smart calls it his favorite Joplin rag; mine, too. There is only one other Joplin piece here, 'Solace (A Mexican Serenade)', one I'd never heard before. It's a slow, dreamy piece which is underpinned by a Hispanic rhythm. Smart plays it with feeling, a creamy legato and a loose-limbed rubato. A winner.
The other rag composers represented here are Joseph Lamb ('Ragtime Nightingale', 'American Beauty'), James Scott ('Grace and Beauty'), Clarence Woods ('Sleepy Hollow Rag'), Robert Hampton ('Cataract Rag'), and best of all there are seven originals by Gary Smart himself: 'Laramie Rag', 'Two Flowers Rag', 'Cracker Rag', 'Peanut Butter Rag', 'Soirees de Vienne (Ragtime rondo)', 'Harlequin Rag' and 'Bell Rag.'
First, let me say that Smart plays these rags with close attention to the scores, not least Joplin's own imperative instruction not to play his rags too fast. Hurray for that. He has an interesting way with rubato; at times it seems wayward, but mostly it feels 'right.' He also plays with a minimum of pedal, which I quite like. He has a fairly well-regulated piano and the recorded sound is good.
Some musical high points: Smart's slithery 'Laramie Rag', written when he was teaching at the University of Wyoming in Laramie; it slyly quotes 'Home of the Range'. James Scott's 'Grace and Beauty' which has both title qualities in abundance; again, Smart's slightly restrained manner fits this elegant rag perfectly. Smart's 'Peanut Butter Rag', although written only last year, has its fair share of 1920s 'eccentric rag' licks. 'Gladiolus Rag' is played broadly and unhurriedly; I love Smart's way with the chromatic upsweeps in the left hand. Hampton's 'Cataract Rag', one that I can only recall hearing once before, is ragtime tone-painting at its best; the 'cataract' of the title is a waterfall, imitated with lacy downward chromatic figures.
But my favorites of the whole CD are the last two cuts, both rags by Smart himself. Smart says, in his handsome booklet notes, that 'Harlequin' is operatic and indeed it is, but not like any Italian opera you've heard, perhaps Joplin's own 'Treemonisha' is conjured up. It is harmonically adventurous and expands the usual AABBACCDD rag format. Musically it describes the Arlequino character from Italian commedia dell'arte (not the series of romance novels!) and has much the same kind of impish humor as in, say, Strauss's 'Till Eulenspiegel.' Finally, 'Bell Rag' (1986) is a joyous up-tempo rag, written on commission from Mountain Bell Telephone, and it humorously quotes that sentimental old pop song from 1901, 'Hello, Central, Give Me Heaven'. It is harmonically complicated, uses various kinds of 'bell' sounds, sometimes goes into some bop figurations and ends with, to quote the composer, 'a ringing coda.' Yowzah!
Worth a listen, for sure.