Ragtime’s place as a precursor to Jazz is well documented in the history books. The style’s rhythmic syncopations still retain a tenacious influence on creative improvised music. But listening to the music’s often stiff and structured patterns reveals the distance Jazz has come in terms of thematic variation since its beginnings. The gap between the music’s nascency and it’s current melodic, harmonic and rhythmic richness is brought into bold relief by the experiments of the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra, a moniker affectionately truncated by the band into the acronym NORO.
Seeking to revitalize public interest in ragtime forms Lars Edegran, NORO’s erstwhile leader, immersed himself in the antique orchestral charts of early 20th century ragtime bandleader John Robichaux. Infusing an underlying New Orleans rhythmic energy into their often-rigid architectures he created a hybrid music that attempted to capitalize on the strengths of both styles. With the aid of violinist William Russell he then organized an elite band of seasoned veteran musicians assist in to bring the music to the public, the biggest coup among them the great trap drummer Cie Frazier.
The experiment in crossbreeding turns out to be something of a qualified success. The pieces are frequently short and sweet sticking to the 78 rpm time strictures of their original recorded incarnations. Most arrangements emphasize violin and horns as lead voices and each of the musicians plays his respective parts well. Where the tunes falter down is in the wistful homogeneity that seems to plague them. Even the regular injections of Frazier’s sly snare and bass drum accents can’t save many of them from falling into the rut of rote recitation. Ragtime was always a sentimental music and here the sentiment seems a little claustrophobic with Russell’s saccharine-tinged violin the frequent culprit. The charts are played beautifully, with an admirable attention to detail, but in the end the drawbacks of Ragtime priggishness end up punching holes in the hull of the NORO ship. Considering how the music was originally reviled by the upper crust establishment as a symbol of uncouth and hedonistic excess it’s anemic nature in modern terms is made all the more ironic.
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Personnel: William Russell- violin; Andrew Anderson- trumpet; Paul Crawford- trombone; Orange Kellin- clarinet; Lars Edegran- piano; Clement Tervalon- bass; Josiah