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Black Manhattan - Volume 2
Shuffle Along Overture (1921), Eubie Blake – Will H. Vodery [6:30]
“Nobody” (1906), Bert A. Williams [4:54]
“That’s Got ’Em — Rag” (1919), Wilbur C. Sweatman [2:26]
“Honey Lamb” (ballad, 1914), Al. Johns [3:26]
“Brazilian Dreams” (tango-intermezzo, 1914), Will H. Dixon [3:59]
“Down in Honky Tonky Town” (one step, 1916), Chris Smith [2:04]
“Returned: A Negro Ballad” (1902), Will Marion Cook – Paul Laurence Dunbar [6:23]
“The Bell Hop Rag” (1914), Frederick M. Bryan [3:28]
“Black Patti Waltzes” (1896), Will Accooe [6:16]
“Goodnight Angeline” (song, 1919), James Reese Europe [3:08]
“The Castle Walk” (one-step, 1914), James Reese Europe – Ford T. Dabney [2:46]
“Aunt Hagar’s Children Blues” (1921), W.C. Handy [2:39]
“Valse Angelique” (1913), J. Tim Brymn [3:56]
“At the Ball, That’s All” (1913), J. Leubrie Hill [2:37]
“When the Moon Shines” (from the 1904 revival of In Dahomey), James J. Vaughan [3:53]
“Oh! You Devil” (rag, 1909), Ford T. Dabney [3:35]
“Breath of Autumn” (concert waltz, 1913), Will H. Dixon [3:37]
“Pine Apple Rag Song” (1910), Scott Joplin [2:50]
“Fizz Water” (one step, 1914), Eubie Blake [2:26]
Edward Pleasant (baritone); Anita Johnson (soprano): Robert Mack (tenor): Linda Thompson Williams (blues singer) Rick Benjamin (piano)
The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra/Rick Benjamin
rec. June 2012, Academy of Arts and Letters, NYC
NEW WORLD RECORDS 80731-2 [71:31]

This is the second volume in a most enjoyable series documenting those pioneers of African-American composition in late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century New York. Biographical essays on each are provided in the booklet and the composers largely derive from the theatrical communities in the city.
 
Volume 1 of the series was devoted to music composed by members of the Clef Club but this one is less specific. Thus we find, as Rick Benjamin makes clear in his notes, music from theatre, ballroom and recital stage. Original orchestrations are employed by his Paragon Ragtime Orchestra. Most have never been recorded before.
 
The Orchestra’s composition is string quartet, bass, flute (doubling piccolo), clarinet, two cornets, trombone, piano and percussion, with the addition of oboe for one song. This seems to have been the conventional theatre pit band size. There are four singers on hand.
 
Many, indeed most, of these theatre composers are little-known. It’s useful to start with two who aren’t: Eubie Blake and Will H. Vodery whose Shuffle Along Overture kicks off the show in fine style. The hit songs in this show included Love Will Find A Way, I’m Just Wild About Harry and Bandanna Days. Bert Williams is also a revered figure and his best known song, Nobody, is here. The trombone hokum is credited to Vodery. Wilbur C Sweatman’s name will be known to most interested in Rags, early jazz and theatrical music and his That’s Got ’Em rag is peppily syncopated. Honey Lamb is an art song cum ballad written by Al Johns to which soprano Anita Johnson brings a perhaps inappropriate operatic panache. Will H. Dixon’s Brazilian Dreams is a rather beautiful tango-intermezzo dating from 1914 that was taken up by recording companies early; Edison and Victor sensibly snapped it up, as indeed did the dancing team of Irene and Vernon Castle. The 1916 one-step Down in Honky Tonky Town (we’re more used to honky tonk) is spiced with modernity and clocks in at a pithy two minutes. Will Marion Cook is one of the biggest figures here but his Returned: A Negro Ballad which dates from 1902, whilst attractive and attractively sung by Anita Johnson, is fatally over-extended.
 
Whilst its composer Will Accooe has fallen from view, his composition Black Patti Waltzes certainly hasn’t. The ‘Black Patti’ was soprano Sissieretta Jones. Dead at 30, Accooe’s was a grievous loss. James Reese Europe has been the subject of at least one biography and continues to stimulate interest. He’s represented here by a couple of fine compositions and W.C. Handy by Aunt Hagar’s Children Blues which Jazzers will know. Blues singer Linda Thompson Williams certainly puts some bad-tempered demotic into it. Scott Joplin’s Pine Apple Rag Song is a case of lyrics being keelhauled into a pre-existing song but it works well enough and it’s good to hear Joplin at any time.
 
So, there are many black theatrical composers and lyricists to enjoy in this disc. There are Rags, waltzes, ballads, tangos, one-steps, show tunes, concert pieces and light Blues. The orchestra plays with great facility and evokes the period style with persuasiveness. There’s a deal of quietly impressive musicological work going on here as well.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 




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