Features and Reviews
CD Review: Mitch Meador's "Afternoon in Afghanistan"
By Fred Hoeptner
Ragtime pianist and composer Mitch Meador has produced a unique CD that in some ways defies description. Titled "Afternoon in Afghanistan," Meador calls it "a syncopated tribute to our armed forces and the freedoms they fight for." He explains further, "The idea that ragtime could be used to make a serious social statement about where the U.S. stands in the 21st century may surprise some. Myself, I don't have a problem with it. Ragtime was America's first popular music, and as such, it is intricately bound up in the fortunes and follies of our great nation."
Featured on the CD are compositions by contemporary composers Trebor Tichenor, Rich Egan, David R. Lee, myself, Brett Youens, Vincent Johnson, Hal Isbitz and Mitch himself; and by vintage composers James Weldon and J. Rosamond Johnson, R. Nathaniel Dett, John William "Blind" Boone, W.C. Powell, Nina Kohler, Bob Cole and Harry Burleigh.
Besides the compositions themselves, to me the standout aspects of this compilation are the complex arrangements in lush orchestral settings that Meador has created and realized through the software program Finale's Garritan instrument samples. In other words, it is electronic music. And no matter how strongly the software developers may claim tonal authenticity, it sounds like electronic music to my ears.
Although some listeners may decry such artificiality, I find Meador's application of it to be entrancing. It should be judged on its own merits and not by comparison to human-played music. Further, arranging and scoring an entire CD of electronic music requires considerable patience and skill. It is no simple, overnight job, even with the automation of computer software.
The CD's namesake composition, "Afternoon in Afghanistan," is doubtless the most eccentric of the group. In his notes, Meador explains that is intended to be programmatic:
"The piece opens with a clock ticking as an insurgent plays a boring flute solo to lull coalition forces into a false sense of security. When the clock tower tolls the noon hour, a dog begins barking ever more frantically, until someone flings a boot its way. Then a courier darts up a circular staircase to deliver an ominous message.
A patrol is dispatched outside the wire, as an elegiac anthem plays. Their search grows gradually more apprehensive, until at last they come in contact with the enemy and an exchange of gunfire ensues.
There is a final restatement of the elegiac anthem as America mourns the loss of her freedom fighters."
Countering the hostility, the other selections include spirituals, serene waltzes and rags, both tranquil and more spirited. I might mention especially Hal Isbitz's "Liquidamber," my "Resplendent Morn," Brett Youens' "The Concertmeister," Trebor Tichenor's "Bucksnort Stomp" and Vincent Johnson's "Dilly Dallying."
Mitch has sent each represented composer multiple copies of the CD. In turn, Vincent and myself have offered some of them to interested members, asking in return a donation to the Rose Leaf Ragtime Club. We have also donated copies to the club's lending library.