James Scott

James Scott

The Complete Works

Basta

These days, nearly a hundred years after the fact, about the only name people associate with ragtime (if they even recollect the genre) is Scott Joplin, whose music peppered the soundtrack for The Sting, which in turn gave “The Entertainer” and “Maple Leaf Rag” a tremendous amount of exposure, bringing these complex compositions into the popular American musical vocabulary. Lesser known (but no less talented) than Joplin were artists like Joseph Lamb and James Scott; as minimal as Joplin’s exposure has been, Lamb and Scott have languished in near-obscurity for a long time.

This two-disc set, as advertised, contains Scott’s complete works, 38 tunes in all, mostly rags but also some waltzes and other popular forms of the time. Scott’s compositional style is unique and “athletic” (to quote the extensive liner notes), and it’s impossible not to marvel at how music like this could have been composed in the first place — at times, it sounds like pianist Guido Nielsen possesses three or four hands, or may be tapping on the high keys with a pointed shoe.

Nonetheless, the torrents and cascades of notes that issue forth from the speakers are a definite source of joy and wonderment. In particular, “Frog Legs Rag,” one of Scott’s most popular pieces, has the jaunty swagger often associated with ragtime, and while somewhat similar to Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” has a unique character in its wanderings up and down the keyboard. Nielsen (who’s had turns in the Beau Hunks) performs with a loving touch — his playing is restrained where it should be, and jubilant everywhere else, without littering these compositions with flash or breakneck speed. Something about the technical challenges in playing ragtime music, with its complicated rhythms and melodies, seems to bring out the worst in many a pianist, but Nielsen shows copious amounts of respect here.

Massive liner notes and graphics (photos and illustrations abound in the booklet) complete this package. Although the notes warn that “details of Scott’s life are not as clearly documented as we would like,” this somehow couldn’t prevent ragtime connoisseur Galen Wilkes from assembling a meticulous history of Scott’s accomplishments as a composer, performer and published musician. Cover artwork by the ultimately appropriate Chris Ware (Acme Novelty Library) is the crowning touch on this authentic piece of ragtime history. Well worth exploring.

Basta Music: http://www.bastamusic.com

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