COMPACT DISC REVIEW
Music of Reginald R. Robinson
River Raisin Ragtime Revue
R4 Recordings (No number)
Monkey Business / Mary’s Joy / Doing the Sugar Heel / Reflections / The Daredevil’s Gallop / A Masquerade Ball / The Amethyst / Naomi / Esperanza / The Bronzeville Glide / Man Out of Time / Head Over Heels, Over You / Sentiments of Spring / Passioñera / Adventures in Wonderland / Sweet Envy* / Mr. Murphy’s Blues*. (*Piano solo)
A lot has happened in Reginald Robinson’s life since he was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2004. He has written scores for both TV and film. As a music historian he has lectured at colleges across the United States. He was a contributing historian to a PBS documentary. And, of course, he has never stopped writing ragtime.
Robinson’s collaboration with the River Raisin Ragtime Revue, a ragtime orchestra from upstate Michigan also known by the abbreviation R4, began in 2016. R4’s musical director emeritus, William Hayes, was impressed with Robinson’s inventiveness as well as his prolific output of ragtime compositions and agreed to orchestrate 15 of them. The result is the first major collection of ragtime works composed and orchestrated by African Americans, since ragtime era.
Hayes has tapped into the essence of each composition to create orchestrations, from whimsical to lushly introspective and everywhere between, that are entertaining and often unique but never boring. The music director, William Pemberton, demands precision from his 15-piece group and he gets it in this live recording, as little musical surprises flit in and out perfectly. The sound recording is well balanced and the full range of orchestral dynamics is on display.
Monkey Business is a show-stopper with many special effects, Head Over Heels, Over You is a stately waltz and The Daredevil’s Gallop is a lively number à la the German “galop” dance. Doing the Sugar Heel is an infectious two-step, Sentiments of Spring spices up a 2/4 rhythm with an habañera section, and Naomi is lushly and irresistibly romantic. These six pieces, some of my favorite tracks, comprise just a snapshot of the variety on this disc. It was a wise decision to close the CD with two piano solos played by Robinson, Sweet Envy and Mr. Murphy’s Blues, thus giving the audience a chance to balance the raw appeal of a Robinson piano rag against the amazing transformations of Hayes orchestrations.
There is a lot of talent on display in this historical recording. Reginald Robinson is a compositional talent to be reckoned with, William Hayes is an insightful arranger and William Pemberton’s River Raisin Ragtime Revue is among the best of today’s ragtime orchestras. The wild and lengthy applause at the end validates the success of their efforts.
Available for $20.00 from <www.ragtimeband.org>.