Oh, no. Another wonderful CD? Will those musicians ever let us alone? When the musicians are pianist Brian Holland and drummer Danny Coots, the answer is a joyous NO.
But first. Let’s assume you’ve never heard Brian and Danny. Nothing simpler than remedying this deficiency. From the 2017 Santa Cruz Ragtime Festival, here is their rendition of two Fats Waller compositions, JITTERBUG WALTZ and BACH UP TO ME:
and here are the two gentlemen, caught by a still camera:
Their new CD is a delightfully varied offering:
The songs: Charleston Rag / Jimmy McHugh Medley (Spreadin’ Rhythm Around – I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed) / Memphis Blues / Doll Dance / Wolverine Blues / Black and Blue / Tico Tico – Besame Mucho / Root Beer Rag / Hymn to Freedom / Violet Wedding (A Song for Marcia) / Rubber Plant Rag / Ragtime Nightingale / Troublesome Ivories / Planxty.
Students of the music will notice some well-deserved homages to great composers and players: Eubie Blake, Fats Waller, W.C. Handy, Nacio Herb Brown, Jimmy McHugh, Joseph Lamb, and a few slightly less expected sources: Oscar Peterson, Glenn Jenks, Billy Joel, and an original by Brian. Ragtime, stride, novelty piano, deep blues, venerable pop tunes, and more.
The title of the CD — even for those who shy away from professional sports, like me — would explicitly suggest that virtuosic larger-than-life musical athleticism is in store. And in a few instances that impression is correct. Brian and Danny romp with great grace and power, and they can show off in the most impressive musical ways. You won’t find players who are more deft at fast tempos than these two, and their quickest skirmishes still make great artistic sense: the listener never feels pummeled with notes. They work together splendidly as a telepathic team, hearing each other’s impulses and subtexts as well.
But leave aside the gorgeous rapid beauties of the up-tempo performances –CHARLESTON RAG, DOLL DANCE, RUBBER PLANT RAG, TROUBLESOME IVORIES, to consider BLACK AND BLUE, which Brian says he began, musingly, in an effort to get into the mind of Thomas Waller — whose affecting song about racial prejudice this is. It is the most quiet and searching show-stopper I can imagine, beginning with pensive suspended chords, an improvisation that hints at Beiderbecke and Gershwin, before gaining emotional power as it climbs to a moving end. I call it a show-stopper because once it had concluded, I was overpowered and needed to pause before moving on to the next track.
In an entirely different way, HYMN TO FREEDOM begins as a solo human being’s prayer — for what and to whom I leave to you — and ends up as a jubilant prayer meeting. PLANXTY starts as a small utterance of grief and ends up a funeral procession, without its volume increasing that much.
But lamenting is not always what Danny and Brian have in mind. Some of these duets are seriously cinematic: listening more than once to TICO-TICO / BESAME MUCHO, I found myself imagining the brightly colored musical film for which they had invented a provocative soundtrack. I see elegant, formally dressed dancers all through RAGTIME NIGHTINGALE as well. I have to say a word about TROUBLESOME IVORIES — perhaps too much autobiography — but had I the ability to dance, and a willing partner, I would not be typing these words now, being otherwise occupied.
The disc is beautifully recorded and, even better, splendidly sequenced, so one never has the sense of listening to ten or twelve minutes of the same thing. Piano and drums — no gimmicks, no novelty vocals or sound effects. Just lovely music.
And . . . speaking of pleasures that won’t grow old quickly, the Holland-Coots Quintet has just released a new disc, a tribute to Fats Waller, THIS IS SO NICE IT MUST BE ILLEGAL, with Marc Caparone, Evan Arntzen, Steve Pikal as the additional merry-makers. I was at the sessions in Nashville in July 2017, and this band made thrilling music, which I wrote about here. (Caution: HOT VIDEO ALERT.)
I will have more to say when the actual disc flutters into my mailbox. And don’t let the title fool you: quantity purchases are not only legal, but medically-recommended.
May your happiness increase!