Martin Spitznagel, piano
Tricky Fingers / Theresa Novelette / Space Shuffle / Heliotrope Bouquet / Kitchen Tom / Loose Elbows / Charleston Rag / Rhapsody in Ragtime / A Novice Novelty / Ace of Clubs / Elite Syncopations / Baltimore Todolo / Euphonic Sounds / Maple Leaf Rag / Red Elephant Rag / Swipesy Cakewalk / Swanee / Tricky Fingers (Scherzo).
Rivermont Records is quickly establishing itself as the home of talented pianists and beautifully packaged CDs and this debut recording by Martin Spitznagel is no exception. A student of Tony Caramia, Spitznagel’s skill is never in question on this disc. The playlist consists of mostly familiar pieces from ragtime’s early years, with a few recent compositions thrown in. Recorded in a cavernous church, the resultant sound is that of a concert hall rather than an intimate studio.
Tempos range from medium to four-alarm fast with nary a slow cut to be found, yet the execution is always clean. His fortes are powerful, his pianissimos whisper and he doesn’t hesitate to juxtapose the two. His interpretations are anything but stereotypical – one hardly knows what to expect next!
Eubie Blake’s rags varied considerably. Rhapsody in Ragtime, a highly original work, was reminiscent at times of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Kitchen Tom was an appropriately saucy tone poem, Tricky Fingers and Baltimore Todolo were both very fast (A todolo was a dance of the day, but don’t try dancing this tempo at home!), and Charleston Rag was so fast it verged on bombastic. The Billy Mayerl novelties were very well done, Loose Elbows being quick and clear and Ace of Clubs being equally entertaining.
The Scott Joplin numbers provided an interesting mix. Combining a jaunty tempo, a soupçon of swing, a bit of boogie and a jot of jazz, Spitznagel transformed both Heliotrope Bouquet and Elite Syncopations into wholly new pieces. Euphonic Sounds received a heartfelt performance, Swipesy Cakewalk was fast, and Maple Leaf Rag was so fast I hardly recognized it (Joplin would not have been amused).
The contemporary rags especially shone. Robin Frost’s Space Shuffle was played crisply at launch speed, Adam Swanson’s A Novice Novelty, a mature piece that belies the age of its composer (15!), was very entertaining, and Spitznagel’s Red Elephant Rag is a solid composition with a touch of whimsy. There are lots of good performances to choose from, but I finally settled on Ace of Clubs, Euphonic Sounds and Red Elephant as my favorites. My only criticism of the disc is this: What is to be gained by playing super-fast instead of merely very fast? Sadly, an audience will always leap to its feet while musicality is sacrificed on the altar of speed.
That being said, this is an impressive first recording. The package is eye-catching and the liner notes are voluminous and, at times, almost confessional. Martin Spitznagel is quite a talent, and as Tony Caramia transitions out of ragtime and back to his original love – jazz – he has, with his glowing introduction to this CD, perhaps anointed his successor.
Available for $15.00 plus shipping from http://cdbaby.com/martinspitznagel .