Man Out of Time
Reginald R. Robinson
This is the fourth album by ragtime pianist and composer Robinson, who received a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2004. Jazz historians generally agree that ragtime is not jazz per se but that its syncopation influenced early jazz. One does not have to argue this point—or the place of ragtime in society a century after its heyday—to enjoy Robinson’s “20 Original Piano Solos,” as the album is subtitled.
The jazziest piece, number 13 in the lineup, is “Mr. Murphy’s Blues,” a jaunty tune named for Robinson’s uncle, also a pianist. Other tunes, including “Head Over Heels, Over You” and “The Amethyst,” suggest European classical music inspiration. The title tune has a strong Scott Joplin feeling, as does “Tears of Joy.”
It’s obvious that Robinson is a fine craftsman of ragtime, writing multiple (and often contrasting) themes for the pieces, varying his pianistic expression from section to section and playing with clean, clear articulation. “The 19th Galaxy,” the final piece, is a tour de force of his piano skills.
As a kid, I spent a lot of time listening to a neighbor’s old vinyl record by ragtime pianist Joe “Fingers” Carr (a.k.a. Lou Busch), concurrent with my discovery of Dixieland jazz. Robinson, although different from Carr, makes an eloquent statement for the genre with this album.