William Bolcom: Ghost Rags: The Graceful Ghost Rag, Poltergeist, Dream Shadows – Classical Rags: Glad Rag, Epitaph for Louis Chauvin, Incineratorag – Raggin’ Rudi – Fields of Flowers – Epithalamium – The Garden of Eden – Knockout: A Rag – Estela: Rag Latino – The Booklyn Dodge (A James P. Johnson Stride)
Spencer Myer (Piano)
Recording: Sono Luminis Studios, Boyce, Virginia (2017) – 71’44
Steinway & Sons #30041 – Booklet in English (Distributed by Bucklesweet Media)
William Bolcom is an artist with a wondrous vision, a man whose musical discoveries pledged to honor mentors (Darius Milhaud, in particular), pre-developed genres (Ragtime) and eclectic rock (Grateful Dead, specifically keyboardist Tom Contstanten.) It was during his stint as faculty member at Queens College (under tutelage of Rudi Blesh) that ignited him to reach into the past and create his own modernistic twist on an earlier beloved theme.
Scott Joplin is the foundation for Mr. Bolcom’s compositions, yet these pieces stretch the spectrum with frequented quirky pokes and jabs of clever dialogue, making the CD a poignant display of ragtime “in the now.” This first-time Spencer Myer release under the Steinway & Sons label is one that will absorb the listener with instantaneous affection.
Though somewhat somber and wistful (with a more optimistic middle section), Mr. Myer’s expression of The Graceful Ghost Rag unfurls with graciousness especially since the work tributes Bolcom’s father. The ensuing Glad Rag captures the Julliard-trained pianist at his brightest while the jaunty effervescence of Raggin’ Rudi conjures the perky music from The Sting.
Frequently, the “ghost” beckons as Bolcom’s musical protagonist, each one skittering about but with contrasting temperament. Mr. Myer dispenses these wispy formations with introspective coloring…that’s what he does especially well: a raucous “Poltergeist” ghost and a capricious, gauzy “Dream Shadows” ghost are a few examples showing that there’s personality in these wraiths. Clever use of the middle sostenuto pedal and wood tapping (ref: Rossini’s Il signor Bruschino) helps add blustery dashes inside the Knockout Rag while the penultimate Rag Latino finds hints of Leonard Bernstein creeping its way into the score.
One of the highlights is the four-movement The Garden of Eden with its sparkly detail, depicting what one would expect to hear during a silent film. Spencer Myer quickly sets the mood and effectively grasps the Bolcom dynamics in this nearly 20 minute melodramatic work...a stand-alone knockout piece.
There’s plenty of variety in “Piano Rags”, one which deserves a good listen. And while Bolcom’s music reaches beyond expectant Joplin, Spencer Myer is there to assist by carefully fashioning with thought and heart. Highly recommended.