This all started with the excellent interview of Frederick Hodges on the front page of the April 2022 issue of The Syncopated Times. Intrigued, I visited the Rivermont website to order music. I discovered a plethora of other artists, both new and old of interest and with the exception of only What a Heavenly Dream by Paul Asaro and the Fat Babies, no overlap with any other music in my existing collection. Although mostly a vinyl guy, a recently purchased new CD player made it practically deja vu to order the set. The Complete Rivermont CD Collection was ordered and promptly received. It has been a busy month listening to it all.
What is it? What sets it apart? Well obviously it is a collection of traditional American music: Principally jazz, ragtime, early 1920s-’30s dance band, show tunes and the like. Generally it covers lesser known artists. There are two primary groups: The 1100 series, which are transfers and restorations of original recordings; and 2100 series, which are late 20th to 2021 recordings of current artists playing traditional music. This latter includes both original compositions and brand new ones. More on that in a moment.
There are many things that set Rivermont apart compared to any other label in my experience. As an aside, I have been a jazz enthusiast, musician, and collector for decades and am privileged to possess an extensive collection of both LPs and CDs. So what makes Rivermont different? Three things: Sound quality, diversity reflecting the entire breadth of the American experience, and depth of historical perspective as exemplified and manifested most clearly by the comprehensive liner notes that accompany almost every CD. Please let me expand on each of these a little more fully.
Sound quality. First let me frame this observation by stating that I am an audiophile. My system is exceptional and between the main speakers and two subs, sits a Yamaha piano. So when I tell you that Ed Clute (BSW-2243) is playing an exceptional sounding Mason & Hamlin, or Richard Dowling playing a Fazioli 9′ grand (right channel) and Frederick Hodges playing a Yamaha 9′ grand (left channel) is clearly apparent, you can believe it. Fun stuff. What is perhaps even more amazing is the clarity of the majority of the 1100 series recordings. We have all heard old 78s with their distant sound. Rivermont reissues are remarkably clear, open, listenable. Very superior to the majority of what is on offer elsewhere.
Diversity. Some people think we were and still are defined by racial stereotypes and that segregation was an omnipresent cloud hanging over the world of American music. Wynton Marsalis observed correctly that we were never divided into black and white, but rather into black and white in one group versus just white in the other. If you pick any of Rich Conaty’s CDs entitled The Big Broadcast, you will find ethnic diversity throughout. If art reflects like and there is a better example of what is meant by the term melting pot, I don’t know what it is. There are 12 CDs in the The Big Broadcast series, may Rich Conaty rest in peace. A great loss. It would be wonderful if someone would pick up his baton.
Historical perspective. In many of the CD jewel boxes the liner notes run to so many pages that they can hardly be stuffed back into the box. They are well written, well researched and in some case include footnotes. Footnotes, like are found in scholarly tomes. These are not the clever ravings of scribes being concocted after the third martini to impress the reader with an esoteric vocabulary. Rather the notes convey meaningful content, careful craftsmanship, and passion for the subject.
In summary, Rivermont conveys passion for traditional early musical forms up to and including jazz as it was conceived in its developmental period.
The “Complete” Rivermont CD Collection
Note: The Complete Rivermont includes the entire Rivermont CD catalog of in-print titles, currently 85 titles, but the exact titles and the number of discs, will vary over time.