There is a middle ground in ragtime recording land. It is populated by those who want to record the rag, the whole rag, and nothing but the rag.
Often for very good reasons, the other terrains are filled with exaggerated versions of rags, pieces barely associated with ragtime, very obscure rags that would have been happy in obscurity, and new rags that somehow took a compositional left turn. Then there are the complex programs -- 70 minutes of a musical tour that supposedly draws all its elements from ragtime, but which a careful study shows that the pieces were related only through chronological coincidences and faulty reasoning.
But here we are in the Lowland Forest, very aptly titled for the project. I will leave it to you to buy the disc and read the brief essay on arboreal rag titles, geography and human history. It's a nicely phrased description and setting for the whole program. Additional comments by the late Charlie Booty enhance the value of the liner notes.
So, what's in the box? A collection of folk rags, Scott Joplin and James Scott classics, a fiddle tune and other country traditions and more modern pieces by Tom Shea and the performer. This is one of those CDs of ragtime that works well in large clumps of listening, especially if you follow along in the liner notes and think about the literal story and the subtext just beneath. Egan makes a point of mentioning that this recording is different from his first one (From the Land of Ragtime), in that there are more familiar pieces representing the repertoire he was enjoying at the time.
If you don't recognize all the titles, here are a few composer clues: "Graveyard Blues" is a Clarence Woods number from a few years after his more famous "Slippery Elm Rag," which immediately follows. "Cottonwood Rag" is by fellow St. Louis ragtimer Trebor Tichenor. Among the least known are "Funny Folks" (W.C. Powell, 1904) and "Rags and Tatters" (Edward Clark, Jr., 1900).
Yes, it is one rag after another, from various styles and eras, cleanly played on an in-tune piano. (Isn't that enough?) Egan is not a show-off player, a speed demon, or a compulsive improviser. He is thoughtful about the tempos and dynamics, the program order, and especially about the personalized approach so evident in the liner notes. He offers commentary on how the music makes him feel, quoting poetry and invoking family history when appropriate. This is the kind of background writing for recordings one used to see even on classical LPs, but which was often dropped when CDs arrived with small booklet pages and too many credits, performer awards and glamorous pictures to stuff in them.
This is available for $15 from puppyjazz.com, a new source since the death of Charlie Booty, who originally produced the CD. You should also order Richard Egan's first CD, noted above, PJ006.
This band organized by veteran clarinetist-bandleader Orange Kellin includes Mark Braud, trumpet; Freddy Lonzo, trombone; Detroit Brooks, banjo; Steve Pistorious, piano; Walter Payton, bass; Shannon Powell, drums. Trouper Topsy Chapman (One Mo' Time) sings, as do Brooks and Payton. It is a band in the grand old New Orleans tradition of "joymakers," i.e., pickup musicians who play comfortably together, marching under the banner of "Let the good times roll!"
This is a live concert recording from Sweden, and the audience is audibly quite appreciative. The tunes are a mix of old classics like Jelly Roll Morton's "Steamboat Stomp" or Thomas Allen's raggy "Big Chief Battle Axe," associated with Bunk Johnson, and basic surefire pop jazz like Isham Jones's "What's the Use" or Joe Jordan's "Sweetie Dear" or the sentimental "Home," immortalized by Louis Armstrong. Kellin has gone from strength to strength in recent years, in his forays into ragtime orchestras and in bands like this one. He has blossomed as an ultra-dependable soloist who also assembles and directs first-rate groups.
Some of his cohorts are longtime associates like bassist Walter Payton, pianist Steven Pistorious and trombonist Freddy Lonzo. They blend incisively with newer faces like trumpeter Braud (kin to bass great Wellman Braud). Kellin, after many decades, has absorbed all the New Orleans idioms and musical attitudes, and he has assembled a group that is congenial and like-minded. They are all skilled and musicianly but imbued with the uninhibited "let `em rip!" spirit of New Orleans jazz. The group sounds supremely comfortable with each other like some of the old-time long-time groups -- Kid Ory's or Papa Celestin's band, guys who had worked and hung out together since Storyville was still open for business.