Cotton Blossom Time album is quite different in that it
is performed by a small ragtime orchestra rather than by a solo pianist.
It also features the compositions of a diverse group of classic ragtime
writers plus a current composer, David Thomas Roberts. Roberts penned a
tune titled “Roberto Clemente” in 1979 in honor of the fabled Pittsburgh
Pirates right-fielder. He also collaborated with Bill Bissonnette on the
liner notes for this album.
The Barfota Jazzmen, led by cornetist/trumpeter Claes Ringqvist are
normally associated with the New Orleans revival movement and highly
respected in their native Sweden. The leader wisely added a violin to
the lineup for the ragtime sessions and spent countless hours on
authentic arrangements. Fans of classic ragtime are nothing, if not
critical. They’ll have a tough time finding fault with this recording.
The judicious use of violin, clarinet, sousaphone and drums is effective
and exciting. The piano takes a “back seat” on the ragtime album and is
relegated to the rhythm section.
While the project includes five numbers by Scott Joplin and one by James
Scott, there are ample tunes by less-known writers. The title tune,
“Cotton Blossom Time” is from the pen of Percy Wenrich (1887-1952), a
white composer, a native of Joplin, Missouri. Wenrich was better known
for popular songs like “When You Wore a Tulip” and “Put On Your Old Grey
Bonnet” but penned a few rags including “The Smiler” and “Red Rose Rag.”
A couple of Detroit writers, Fred Stone and Harry Guy contributed “Ma
Ragtime Baby” and “Echoes From The Snowball Club.” The latter is
believed to be the first ragtime waltz (1898). The New Orleans musician
and composer, Alphonse Verges, contributed the popular “Whoa You Heifer”
in 1904. Kansas City’s Harry Kelly (1879-1955) offers his highly
successful “Peaceful Henry” (1905) and the band handles it perfectly.
The most obscure ragtime writer is represented by two compositions,
“African Pas” (1902) and “Havana Rag” (1904). Maurice Kirwin’s
biographical information is limited to the dates and publishers of his
music. He is known to be from Saint Louis, Missouri but little else is
known. However, the quality of the music speaks for itself, especially
The Barfota Jazzmen assembled Cotton Blossom Time from several recording
sessions in 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2006. All recordings were done in
Sweden and are now being released on America’s Jazz Crusade label. In
their usual fashion, the label provides a generous 73 minutes of music.
Ragtime fans are welcome to listen to samples on the Jazz Crusade
website. It’s fine ragtime!
- Richard Bourcier
International—British Jazz Magazine
This band from Sweden is notable for its historical
perspective and enlightened eclecticism. Its earlier CD I Want To Be A
Birdman impressed me by its attention to detail, its imaginative
repertoire and its ability to bring the styles of the prehistory of jazz
to life. These musicians are quite capable of playing in the New Orleans
'revivalist' style, but here they are focussed on ragtime; not as played
by a jazz group but by a true ragtime band dedicated to proper
performance in accordance with the composer's intentions. This is no
mere academic exercise, as has been promoted by others in the past,
because they play with joy, passion and excitement and with a robust
approach where the rough edges only go to give the music its
individuality and character. The repertoire ranges from the classic rags
to a more Palm Court ambience, including one original composition, and
each piece is played according to its particular merits. Moose March is
outstandingly dynamic and
even the good old Entertainer is given a new lease of life. The material
was recorded over several years but the results are remarkably
consistent with the band perhaps becoming even more comfortable in their
chosen milieu with the passage of time. Kersti Soderlind is no Bessie
Smith but she sings with spirit in a manner more suitable for this
formal but exceedingly enjoyable music which successfully transports us
back to the Creole society of times gone by.
- Christopher Hillman
Just Jazz—British Jazz
Sweden's Barfota (translated - barefoot) Jazzmen are one of the
finest traditional bands in Europe and always include beautifully
arranged and played Ragtime numbers in their concert and club programmes.
Very taken with this aspect of their abilities Jazz Crusade's Big Bill
Bissonnette, who has toured with the band, spent some years persuading
leader Claes Ringgvist that his Ragtime efforts were so excellent that
he should (could!) expand them to make a complete album. Here's the
result - 18 delightful tracks of beautifully played, totally authentic
The band - expanded to a nine-piece with the addition of a violin for
the album - play with verve and enthusiasm, and the arrangements never
spoil the flow of the great melodies. Listening with great pleasure to
these tracks, it's not difficult to see how the transition from Ragtime
dance music to jazz took place just over a century ago. So, buy this CD,
sit back, let your imagination run free, and let the music here
transport you back to a gentler age. It's a fun journey, and you might
just 'see' where Buddy Bolden was coming from!
- Brian Harvey
Boxell’s Jazz Website—New
Most unusual: a CD of classic ragtime music. Normally you find
ragtime either as a solo piano CD or played in a non classic style as
part of the mix on a traditional jazz band CD. This is ‘Classic’ ragtime
with the Barfota jazzmen leaving their usual ‘revival’ style behind,
acquiring violinist Svante Nordell, and playing more as an orchestra
than a jazz band. The tunes come from various sessions. Tracks 1-5 1997,
6-10 2001, 11-15 2005 and 16-18 2006 with all but the 2006 session being
culled from earlier albums released on their own label.
I have the band’s 1990 ‘My Life Will be Sweeter Someday’ album, which
contains a couple of rags, but they are not really in the same style as
the music on this CD, which is ragtime as it was intended to be played,
rather than as jazz bands play it today. Having said that the tracks
1-10 to my ear seem a lot ‘tighter’ than the later ones, though that
could be more due to the tunes them selves. Ragtime, played in the
original style, is a very precise, technical formal style of music.
Listen to ‘Ma Ragtime Baby’ and ’Ethiopia Rag’ to hear it at its most
exact. One thing I really found interesting was the clever way the
violin & clarinet often played the same line together, with ‘Original
Rags’ and ’The Easy Winners’ being my favourite examples. This is a
fascinating CD and well worth adding to your collection.
Nuts: I lent this CD to my father to listen to. He loves it so much he
says that I won't get it back until I inherit his estate!
- Geoff Boxell