Rags and Roots
From the opening moments of Joplin "Maple Leaf Rag," trombonist Chris Washburne's new recording provides a fresh take on some ragtime and the roots of jazz. His co-producer, Kabir Sehgal observes that this album "is a bi-hemispheric ragtime revival that marks the centenary of both Joplin’s passing and the first noted jazz recording. By reimagining ragtime and the roots of jazz, Chris Washburne has created a path for new audiences to discover this quintessentially American music. His Rags and Roots is both a tribute to and triumph of ragtime and a sounding out of the truly global roots of jazz." And he does so with this reinvention of Joplin's classic that shifts from traditional jazz to a more modern take only hinting at the melody as well as having Sarah Elizabeth Charles sing the rarely heard lyrics. It is a performance full of surprise and joy.
This performance opens a wondrous and fresh take on other songs from Joplin, Brazil, Haiti, Cuba and Mexico. The leader has brought together a terrific band that includes his trombone and vocals; Alphonso Horne trumpet, vocals; Evan Christopher clarinet, vocals; Andre Mehmari piano, vocals; Hans Glawischnig bass, vocals and Vince Cherico drums, vocals. In addition to Charles, other featured vocalists on this include Thelonious Monk Competition finalist, Vuyo Sotashe and Gabriela Anders.
"Maple Leaf Rag": sets the tone for this outstanding recording. It is followed by a mashup of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" and Moises Simons "El Manicero (The Peanut Vendor)," that was initially joined together by the Cuban big band, Los Hermanos Castro. This performance fascinates with the interweaving of the two numbers, including the vocals from Charles (on "St. Louis Blues") and Anders (of "El Manicero'), along with solos from the leader and pianist Mehmari. There is the lively Caribbean-Crescent City rhythmic mashup for Louis Moreau Gottschalk's "Bamboula," with Evan Christopher's joyful, serpentine clarinet initiating this with more marvelous piano and some marvelous brass before Christopher with a pensive, woody solo, and playful brass and woodwind riffs.
"Here's One," originally pioneering Harlem Renaissance giant William Grant Still's arrangement of a spiritual, is wonderfully sung by Sotashe followed by a lovely rendition of Joplin's "Solace (A Mexican Serenade)" and then Ernesto Nazareth's buoyant "Odeon," from Ernesto Nazareth's with choice solos from bassist Glawischnig and trumpeter Horne. Charles' lovely vocal on Joplin's "Picture on Her Face," is followed by the exuberance and invention of "Mildly Entertained," a transformation of "The Entertainer," into a fresh composition. "Ala Cote Gen Fanm," was composed by Haitian composer Gerard Dupervil but the original misogynistic lyrics were adapted by Candice Hoyes and Sarah Elizabeth Charles transforming this into a Haitian feministic anthem with Charles singing in Haitian Creole against a spirited backing. "Lisete," evolved into a popular Haitian folk ballad which Washburne interprets as a charming piano, clarinet, and trombone trio.
Danish-American ragtime composer, Jens Bodewalt Lampe, penned "Creole Belles," that some may know from Mississippi John Hurt's lilting recording. Christopher's ebullient arrangement provides a contemporary take on traditional New Orleans Jazz with a fine vocal from Sotashe. The album closes with a somber "Strange Fruit." Charles delivering the first verse backed solely by Glawischnig's bowed bass before the full band enters with sober horns set against a funeral march tempo on a Charles' compelling rendition of the anti-lynching song made famous by Billie Holiday.
"Rags and Roots" has fresh takes on ragtime and early jazz classics that is wonderfully arranged, as well as superbly played and sung. It is a superb recording.
I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 372).