Reffkin CD reviewed at Ragtimer.org. - Don’t let the “Chamber Music” title fool you into thinking of boring stereotypes.  This is not dry, somnolent entertainment; rather, it is string music with verve, crackling with energy that will leave you wishing the recording were longer.

            Reffkin has fronted the A.R.E. in its various forms for over 30 years, has been a familiar face at many ragtime festivals and was the recording engineer when the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble recorded their famous Red Back Book album for Angel records in the early 1970s.  This material was originally recorded in 1975 and features various combinations of strings (violins, viola, cello, bass) and piano.

            This is a fine mixture of classics and relative obscurities.  The string musicians are in excellent form – their attack is brisk and their timing is impeccable.  On the cuts where the piano is heard (Castle House Rag, Tickle Toes, Cotton Babes, Powder Rag, Louisiana   Rag, Russian Rag, Valley Flower and Bowery Buck), its function is as a rhythm instrument.  Yet it adds a depth and dimension that you come to miss on the tracks where it is absent.  The overall effect of the Ensemble is that of a unified whole and it sounds as if they are having a lot of fun playing ragtime.

            Most everything is played by the Ensemble as a group, except for two solos which are standout treats.  Tickle Toes features an animated cello throughout and Reffkin’s solo violin on Louisiana Rag is pixie-ish as it skips to delightful flights of fancy accompanied only by the piano.  The two Joplin rags (Gladiolus Rag and Wall Street Rag) are slightly less successful than the rest of the selections.  I suspect that the complex inner voicing does not translate to the configuration of a small ensemble as well as the simpler folk rags.  Mark that as a minor detraction, however.

            Whereas the cassette came without liner notes, the CD has them in abundance.  Thanks to the collection of Johnny Maddox, who is closely associated with Crazy Otto Records, seven original covers are reproduced in color and all selections have complete publishing data and commentary.  In addition, if you insert this disc into your computer you can view the covers in detail as well as listen to almost 10 minutes of recorded commentary by Reffkin himself.

            This release is alive with excitement and each time I play it the energy goes right to my toes which tap along with the infectious rhythm.  I can’t think of a better contrast to your collection of piano ragtime recordings than the music of the American Ragtime Ensemble.

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