Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Good Time (for Free!) Rag

Concert Review

Reginald R. Robinson
Jazz Showcase, Chicago

While admittedly a bit of a dilettante, within any art form that I know of at least one current practitioner, I typically could name a few. But in the category of Ragtime composers and pianists, beyond the legend everyone should know, Scott Joplin--and he's been dead over 90 years--there is exactly one artist I can name.

So while I have no real point of comparison for Reginald R. Robinson, a young, Chicago-based Ragtime specialist who gave a free concert last night at Jazz Showcase (sponsored by WDCB 90.9, the great jazz station operated by the College of DuPage), all I can tell you is that he sounded phenomenal.

And given that he won a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2004, I guess I'm not the only one who thinks he's pretty good.

The concert last night was ostensibly to promote his new 3-disc CD/DVD called Reflections, but Robinson showcased compositions from the last 20 years, dating back to when he was 16 (and per his Wikipedia entry, likely living in a Chicago housing project). And while "ragtime" is clearly his niche, he demonstrated a variety of styles within his playing; fast, slow, blues-based, ballads, etc. It really was quite a showcase, and somewhat like VH1 Storytellers, Robinson gave the title, date of origin and impetus for each composition he played, including a Joplin rag that opened his set. He was engaging in every sense.

At $45, Reflections was a bit pricey for me to pick up, but I did buy his 2007 release Man Out of Time, which is delightful and likely a great place to start, as you can download it for just $8.99 from Amazon (or $9.99 on iTunes).

I only stayed for the first of his two sets, which lasted about an hour, in order to let others refill the packed joint--as longtime Jazz Showcase impresario Joe Segal noted, "nothing brings 'em out like free"--but it was quite long enough to get a good sense of how special Robinson is. I love virtuosity in any form, and this demonstration was not only quite unique, but endlessly enjoyable. I don't know if Robinson is truly peerless, but I could listen to this "Entertainer" all day.

This video isn't from last night, but is a good example of what he does, and should demonstrate why I was so impressed.

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