River Raisin Ragtime Review: Music of Reginald R. Robinson, Live in Concert

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NEW RAGTIME

The ragtime era is generally thought of as being roughly 1899-1915, and certainly ending with the death of Scott Joplin in 1917. Other than “Maple Leaf Rag,” relatively few classic rags were recorded or even performed during the next 50 years and the music was thought of as largely extinct or, at best, a period piece. That permanently changed when a few Joplin pieces (most notably “The Entertainer”) were used prominently in the 1973 hit film The Sting. Never mind that The Sting was set in the 1930s, not 1910. It sparked the revival of ragtime which has continued up to the present day.

In addition to performances and recordings of rags from the early days, one of the brightest aspects to the revival has been that there have been new rags composed by talents of the past 40 years. Reginald R. Robinson emerged as a ragtime pianist and composer in the early 1990s, has led five albums of his own, has written music for the stage, television and films, and is a music historian and educator.

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Music Of Reginald R. Robinson is a delightful collection of 17 Robinson originals that were orchestrated by William Hayes and performed at a concert by the River Raisin Ragtime Revue. Under the direction of William Pemberton (who plays helicon bass), the group consists of a string quartet, banjo (an instrument rarely used in ragtime ensembles), flute/piccolo, clarinet, two cornets or trumpets, trombone, helicon bass (which has the role of a tuba), piano, and drums. While Doug Scott plays piano on the first 15 selections, Robinson is in the spotlight as a pianist on impressive versions of his “Sweet Envy” and “Mr. Murphy’s Blues.”

Some of the selections could be mistaken for formerly unheard rags by Scott Joplin, but Robinson’s music (all composed between 1994-2015) reaches beyond the rag style of the era to include waltzes, tangos, a polka, and strong hints of early jazz, classical music and African-American folk music. His many beautiful melodies (“Naomi” is particularly memorable) sound as if they could have been performed during 1910-15 but none of his music is predictable or derivative.

This well-conceived set, which is impeccably performed, does Reginald R. Robinson’s music full justice.

Music Of Reginald R. Robinson (R4 Recordings 00261 45928 17 selections, TT = 70:02) www.ragtimeband.org 

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