Review by: Victor Carr Jr

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

This album collects ragtime and jazz classics of composer/conductor James Reese Europe and his contemporaries. The performances recreate the style of the legendary Clef Club, a ragtime orchestra composed of African American musicians that operated from 1910 to 1930. Europe was a prominent figure on the black music scene during this time, as was Will Marion Cook, whose In Dahomey was the first all-black musical, and its full-scale overture is this collection’s most substantial offering.

The disc begins with Europe’s exuberant “Castle Perfect Trot”, a light, bright, dancing romp that sets the high-spirited tone for the majority of the disc. This, and numbers such as J. Turner Layton’s “Strut Miss Lizze” and Cook’s “Swing Along!” have such an infectious beat that you’ll hardly be able to resist tapping your toes. This is as much true today as in 1902 when Bob Cole and the Johnson Brothers penned the song “When the Band Plays Ragtime”, which (as sung beautifully here by baritone Edward Pleasant) offers a wry commentary on the social friction engendered by “jazz” music. Cole and Johnson provide the disc’s other vocal offering, the exotic “Under the Bamboo Tree”, in a stylized period performance by soprano Awet Andemicael.

There’s plenty of variety here to give a representative sampling of some of the era’s finest pop music, and it’s all played with polish, authenticity, and all-out enthusiasm by the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra under Rick Benjamin’s inspired direction. The recording provides natural perspectives, warm presence, and dynamic punch. Those who think ragtime begins and ends with Scott Joplin are in for a pleasant surprise, while aficionados no doubt will treasure this uniquely enjoyable disc.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

Theater and Dance Music by Members of the Legendary Clef Club -

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