The year 1917 stands out in music history, for that was the year of the first jazz recording, (Livery Stable Blues by Original Dixieland Jass Band) and marks the death of ragtime pianist/composer Scott Joplin
. To commemorate these events, and the century that ensued, trombonist Chris Washburne
takes a musical exploration back through time on Rags And Roots
, revealing the connections and contributions of not only America, but Haiti, Cuba, Mexico, and Brazil, in the early development of jazz.
Scott Joplin is considered the "King of Ragtime Writers," so it is apropos that this project commences with his most famous composition "Maple Leaf Rag." But this is not the usual ragtime interpretation, Washburne renovates the piece as an enticing arrangement with a Dixieland inclination, vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles
offering the rarely sung lyrics with an energetic delivery. On this initial outing, trumpeter Alphonso Horne trades solos with Washburne, as clarinetist Evan Christopher
weaves perfect nuances into the mix. Charles is joined by Gabriela Anders to sing on the "St Louis Blues/The Peanut Vender" medley, a brilliant merger of the classic blues song with the Cuban rumba "El Manicero," in a perfect example of "the Spanish Tinge," so often mentioned during the jazz incubation period. The music probes the Caribbean influence on Louis Moreau Gottschalk
's famed "Bamboula," written in honor of the drum circles of Congo Square, New Orleans. Pianist Andre Mehmari construes that vintage New Orleans atmosphere, allowing the brass and reed to depict how the African rhythms also seeped into the aristocratic dance halls of the period. We must mention here the impeccable work of bassist Hans Glawischnig
, who along with drummer Vince Cherico
maintain the music on course through complicated tempo variations and cerebral arrangements.
South African vocalist Vuyo Sotashe is featured on the spiritual "Here's One," where Washburne's intentional utilization of a forgiving tempo is a perfect vehicle for the singer. Joplin is revisited with "Solace (A Mexican Serenade)" as the cross-cultural traditions in his music are evident in the mariachi tinted horns propelled by a sharp Cuban syncopation. Another Joplin piece, the somber "Picture Of Her Face," has Charles again in the vocalist role, the song performed as a lamentation. The Washburne original "Mildly Entertained," is his spin on Joplin's "The Entertainer," from the movie "The Sting," and is the perfect showcase for his bandmates to show their collective chops.
The festivities move to Brazil on "Odeon," composed by Ernesto Nazareth, who was prolific in Brazil at the same time as Joplin in America. This song is in the tango brasileiro style, portrayed with plenty of rhythm and panache. Haiti is represented with "Ala Cote Gen Fanm" a unique number which combines Vodou sensibilities with folkloric Rara music. Written by Gerard Dupervil and originally recorded by Jazz Des Jeunes, with male oriented lyrics, Charles sings in Haitian Creole (Kreyol) and converts the song into a feminist anthem, in arguably, the most challenging track on the record. "Lissette," continues the Haitian current, and is a pensive ballad performed in an infrequent trio setting comprised of piano, clarinet, and trombone. They return to New Orleans for "Creole Belles," a celebratory sensation back in its day, now a stimulating reinterpretation where Sotashe makes a welcome reappearance on vocals. The project culminates with "Strange Fruit," the poignant song so notably associated with Billie Holiday
, yet Charles steps up to the vocalizing task, as they take this into dark dirge terrain, as the song merits. Washburne chose this song with the purpose of dedicating it to those jazz musicians whose lives were impacted by racism.
Chris Washburne and his accompanists appropriated ragtime as a springboard, undertaking the daunting task of extracting and transforming the jazz roots found in blues, and in vast Pan-American influences, into another semblance. That Washburne is a doctor in ethnomusicology, is evident by his thoughtful selections, and quest for details, revealing a profound knowledge of the subject matter. This project intentionally spans a century in the history of jazz with its many offshoots and variations, all performed at the highest level of musicianship, yet accessible to the contemporary audience.