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American Heritage
Samuel COLERIDGE-TAYLOR (1875-1912)
Deep River, Op. 59, No. 10 (1904) [6:40]
Margaret BONDS (1913-1972)
Troubled Water (1967) [5:07]
Harry Thacker BURLEIGH (1866-1949)
From the Southland (1907) [18:23]
Louis Moreau GOTTSCHALK (1829-1869)
Union, Paraphrase de Concert Op. 48 (1862) [8:28]
The Banjo, Grotesque Fantasie Op. 15 (1854) [4:17]
Florence B. PRICE (1887-1953)
Dances in the Canebreaks (1953) [8:29]
Robert Nathaniel DETT (1882-1943)
In the Bottoms; Dance – “Juba” (1913) [2:23]
William Grant STILL (1895-1978)
The Blues from Lenox Avenue (1937) [2:39]
Swanee River (Traditional folk song) (arr Still, 1939) [2:05]
Keith JARRETT (b.1945)
Shenandoah (Traditional folk song) arr Keith Jarrett, Jeni Slotchiver [5:06]
Frederic RZEWSKI (b.1938)
From North American Ballads: Down by The Riverside (1979) [6:41]
Jeni Slotchiver (piano)
rec. September 2018, American Academy of Arts and Letters
ZOHO CLASSIX ZM202008 [70:12]

‘From the Civil War to Civil Rights’ runs the promotional material with this disc, one that in terms of chronology spans Gottschalk to Frederic Rzewski, though slightly later if we include an arrangement of Shenandoah by Keith Jarrett.

Barring Coleridge-Taylor, all the composers are American and of these the large majority are African-American. In the disc’s rubric, honouring African-American experience is an explicit aim as is the inclusion of Union army hymns, gospels, sea shanties, secular dances and arrangements of traditional songs. Jeni Slotchiver opens with Coleridge-Taylor’s version of Deep River from his set of 24 Negro Melodies of 1904 which makes for an intriguing point of comparison from Frances Walker’s performance (she plays all 24) on Orion 7806-2. Walker plays her own slight adaptation which is drier and shorter than Jeni Slotchiver’s more romanticised approach. Recent years have seen increasing interest in the music of Margaret Bonds whose Troubled Water, from 1967,follows, a piece that embraces impressionist hints as well as fulsome chording and jazz and spirituals leanings. Joel Fan has recorded this as well (see review).

She also plays Harry Burleigh’s 1907 From the Southland, a collection of six small pieces. He infuses some Ragtime into this, as well as Gospel, and Slotchiver plays the A Jubilee section, in particular, with great animation. Incidentally, try to hear Black Swans on Parnassus PACD96067 (see review) for Burleigh’s rare 1919 recording of Go Down, Moses in which he probably self-accompanies. Florence B Price was a deft piano composer and Dances in the Canebreaks (1953) offers the performer three panels to sculpt and characterise, not least the last one, Silk Hat and Walking Cane, a light-hearted cakewalk. Robert Nathaniel Dett is another important black composer to have recorded before the advent of electrical discs and he too is represented on that Parnassus CD. By one of those A & R quirks he wasn’t asked – or if he was it was never issued – to lay down his famous Juba Dance. Fortunately, a very different kind of composer-pianist with a knack for vernacular of all kinds, Percy Grainger, recorded it in 1945. It’s not really fair to judge mere mortals by Grainger’s standards of extraordinary brilliance but a listen to his scintillating 78 – it’s on APR (see review) - shows what is missing here.

Similarly, the two Gottschalk piece, whilst conscientiously done, lack the bravura of Philip Martin’s readings on Hyperion and even Lambert Orkis (on Bridge – see review) proves a more resilient exponent of Union, that grand fusillade of virtuoso panache, one the composer famously unleashed on Lincoln himself in 1864. William Grant Still has returned to the periphery of the repertoire. He’s never really been away when it comes to The Blues from Lenox Avenue but that’s usually heard in Louis Kaufman’s superior arrangement for violin. Mark Boozer recorded an album of the piano music (see review) and I can’t say I’m wild about Still in this medium, much preferring his orchestral music. Rzewski’s Down by the Riverside comes from his North American Ballads and brings us to 1979, its combination of Bach, walking bass and modern deconstructive twist proving effective. Of the Jarrett-Slotchiver arrangement of Shenandoah, I’ll simply say that it’s beautiful.

There is a useful booklet with this disc that includes the words of six Gospel songs. The recording catches some pedalling action but this doesn’t constitute a terrible impediment to a thoughtfully selected recital.

Jonathan Woolf

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