Spencer Myer – William Bolcom Piano Rags – Steinway And Sons

by | Sep 6, 2017 | Classical CD Reviews, Jazz CD Reviews

Spencer Myer – William Bolcom Piano Rags – Steinway And Sons 30041, 71:44 ****1/2:

Pianist offers superb homage to modern-era Ragtime composer!

(Spencer Myer – piano)

The peak era of Ragtime was 1895-19i8. The genre was known for its unusual (at the time) syncopated tempo structure developed from African music.. This represented a polyrhythmic modification of the march time popularized by John Phillip Sousa. Early composers included Ernest Hogan, Ben Harvey and of course Scott Joplin. This development would lead to the the founding of stride piano.  Joplin’s “Maple Leaf rag” influenced many future composers. The popularity of these 2/4 and 4/4 metered formats waned until a mass commercial revival in the 1970’s. This renaissance was driven by a film The Sting that featured the music of Joplin.

One of the influential modern Ragtime artists was American classical composer William Bolcom. Among his many accomplishments is a cadre of Ragtime compositions, including “The Graceful Ghost Rag” and “Incineratorag”. Pianist Spencer Myer has performed with many symphony orchestras (Indianapolis, Phoenix, Richmond, Santa Fe, New Haven and China). His virtuosity and ability to interpret a wide array of genres has propelled his ascent as a classical performer. He is an in-demand chamber musician. His debut release on Steinway & Sons is William Bolcom Piano Rags Seventy-four minutes of complex Ragtime pieces are interpreted by a graceful, intuitive pianist. The opening number, “The Graceful Ghost King” (one of three Ghost Rags) is exemplary of Myer’s approach. Within this 4:35 intricate performance, he wistfully follows a harmonious melody with subtle hushes and lyrical melodies. His piano technique is flawless. The rhythm is strong but there are quiet interludes. According to the liner notes, “Classic Rags: I. Glad Rag was inspired by Joplin’s opera Treemonisha. The punctuated runs are up tempo, but not rushed. The festive melody develops fluidly through accelerated flourishes and prominent chord striking.

“Raggin’ Rudy” is festive and moves with aggressive techniques. But there are always well-interjected low-key moments that complement perfectly. Switching gears, “Fields Of Flowers” has an unusual blues syncopation (credited to Grateful Dead piano player Tom Constanten) and a carefree fluency with atonal crashes and chord stretching. it is unique Ragtime. “Epithalaium” displays an emotional depth that approximates Broadway vibe. Regardless of time signature, Myer’t timing and phrasing are impeccable. On the second Ghost Rag (“Poltergeist”), he alternates between a jaunty, syncopated feel and shifts to prominent swells. And he is perfect on the slower pieces. “Epitaph For Calvin” has that gentle laconic sway that caresses a melody. Next up is”The Garden Of Eden” in four parts. “Old Adam” has a loping, festive vibe with a chorus that approximates a call and response. “The Eternal Feminine” represents classic Ragtime elegance with internal movements. On “The Serpent’s Kiss”, there is an emphatic line that is evocative of a silent movie score. There are dramatic accents and resounding chords. The final number of this quartet, “Through Eden’s Gates” features dulcet harmonics and a delicate touch.

There are three new Bolcom compositions. (“Knockout: A Rag”, “Estela: “Rag Latino” and “Brooklyn Dodge”) that are bathed in colorful and highly technical patterns. And the earlier works like “Dream Shadows” and “Iconeratorag” underscore’s Myer’s immersion in the styles and contexts Of Ragtime.

Spencer Myer—Bolcom Piano rags is terrific!

Ghost Rags I: The Graceful Ghost Rags
Classic Rags: I. Glad Rag
Raggin’ Rudi
Fields Of Flowers
Ghost Rags II: Poltergeist
Classic Rags II: Epitaph For Louis Chavin
The Garden Of Evil I. Old Adam
The Garden Of Eden II. The Eternal Feminine
The Garden Of Eden III. The Serpent’s Kiss
The Garden Of Eden IV. Through Eden’s Gates
Knockout: A Rag
Ghost Rags: III. Dream Shadows
Classic Rags: III. Incinerator
Estela: Rag Latino
The Brooklyn Dodge (A James P. Johnson Stride)

—Robbie Gerson

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