I've heard many musicians approach the ragtime repertoire according to their spirit animal. Some storm through a rag as if preparing for a martial arts tournament. Others play it with reverent rigidity, the way a child in an antique shop sits tensely on the chair to which he's been affixed. This CD presents one, two, and three musicians embodying a radical idea: "Let's play the music with joy and attention to detail, and whatever happens, it will be good."
On this CD, Jelly Roll Morton's proud, playful New Orleans spirit is strong, although Kris Tokarski wisely avoids the Morton caricature: lesser pianists turn Morton into a large papier-mâché figure at the keyboard.
Kris's playing is, as always, warm and delicate but you know there is stomping power beneath the surface. I admire his beautiful touch, the logic of his phrases, but he's never so precise as to be chilly. Kris animates the rags, reminding us that ragtime is swinging syncopated dance music: pastoral but not effete.
Masterful playing by Cassidy Holden and Hal Smith makes this a genuine trio, democratic and empathic. Hear the low woody propulsive sound Cassidy gets (the right notes, the right changes, a wonderful pulse) as well as his cello-like clarity. Hal's playing appears uncomplicated, but it takes decades of devoted playing to know what to leave out, what sounds to make, how and when to make them. I thought occasionally of Minor Hall and Tommy Benford, but most often of Hal.
*excerpts from Michael Steinman’s liner notes