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Friday, January 2, 2015

Ragtime (Arsen Shomakhov) 2002 Heavy Steppin'

Genre: Blues
Rate: 320 kbps CBR / 44100
Time: 01:01:15
Size: 140,01 MB


It hasn't been too long since Ragtime first showed up in public in Moscow and St.Petersburg and won recognition of their first fans. Now you have in your hands the materialized result of their meticulous work.

The musicians met at their friends' rehearsal back in 1987. After a short jam they made up their minds to play together. Their current name Ragtime was taken in 1991 and has nothing to do with the early piano style of dance music, but in fact was borrowed from Doctorow's novel, which once inspired Milos Forman to make a brilliant movie.

The Ragtime are: Arsen Shomakhov - a guitar virtuoso with a remarkable singing voice, Aslan Zhantuyev - a bass player who prefers reliability and deep understanding of seemingly simple blues material to a useless pursuit of Pastorius, and Sultanbek ("Bek") Mamyshev - a devoted drummer, who naturally expresses himself in the music he seems to like even more than his band mates.

Stylistically the music of Ragtime can be described in terms of blues, blues-rock and jazz-rock. The band grew up in a small provincial town of Nalchik deprived of rich variety of music that you and I enjoy today. The first blues records Arsen heard and was deeply impressed by, were the ones of guitar heroes Jimi Hendrix, Stieve Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter. This fact to a great extent determined the current format of the band - a guitar trio with a taste for blues-rock. However, unlike numerous bands of the similar history, Ragtime never attempted to copy the standards, neither did they try to just use lyrics, a simple riff, and a killing overdrive effect to give a noisy birth to another undistinguishable song. Ragtime make use of emotion and musical ideas of the author, add a flavor of their own, arrange and perform in a very accurate, yet extremely emotional manner.

Apparently the band has already seen the time of guitar standards. Of old repertoire they have only retained Hendrix's Angel, that Arsen plays very carefully and precisely, trying not to lose a small bit of the original mood. The Ragtime's repertoire still tends to be blues-rockish, but in no way a trivial one! The songs they play are not too well known, but remarkable for their bright musical ideas.

Two standards from the father of blues Muddy Waters Hoochie Coochie Man and Good Morning Little Schoolgirl are done with a difference. I heard innumerous versions of songs by Muddy Waters played by the bands, who would try hard to play exactly like HE did and would certainly fail. This sort of thing eventually leads to rhetorical questions "can white guys play the blues? ". Ragtime initially rejected the idea of copying the material, and the result proved to be interesting. That's how Hoochie Coochie Man - very dull versions of which have been played by an army of bluesmen - turned into a song with a cool riff and vivid rhythmical structure, whereas Good Morning Little Schoolgirl turned out a long meditative guitar improvisation, going beyond the original harmony frames.

A part of this album the band can be proud of is the three tracks written by Arsen Shomakhov, which in my opinion illustrate his outstanding musical talent and freedom to understand harmony. An uptempo instrumental Boogie Boy was written under the influence of be-bop by Charlie Parker and built on the similar rules. It can literally take your breath away - a fast theme running through the blues harmony changes, the rhythmical pattern alternating to make the piece truly diverse. The first time I listened to this piece I asked myself whether if it was still possible to compose an absolutely new and natural work only using traditional blues elements:

The song Don't Waste My Time is built on a simple emotionally charged guitar riff, which seems to me a very solid base for improvisation. What else does it take to play the blues? A very similar idea is used in the song Hold on by a brilliant Norwegian guitar artist Vidar Busk, where he feels at ease playing an indecently simple in structure, yet a very absorbing riff. In general, that names of 5 songs form the album start from "Don't" prompts the vague idea that there's something unique to the music of Ragtime, as the correlation between the charge of title, music and emotion should definitely exist.

An instrumental Heavy Steppin' by Shomakhov gave the name to the album. It is a mixture of jazz-rock a-la John Scofield with powerful blues elements - a lengthy, yet very versatile piece. The theme and the rhythm patterns consistently develop free of dull repetitions. Parts different in tempo and emotional color evolve naturally and seamlessly, leaving the listeners short of breath as they follow jazz-rock complexity smoothly turning into bluesy semi-shuffles backed up by powerful bass. Such a natural combination of music styles is admirable and makes me think of the universal nature of good music of different styles.

For the band this album is first of all an attempt to record the stage they presently find themselves at, and also a good reason to move ahead. The result turned out to be really great regardless of the peculiarities of studio work, where the songs are to be divided into separate lines, being precise and dry and sometimes hurting the freedom of improvisation, as opposed to the songs played onstage in a shared emotional impulse. The Ragtime fulfilled their task successfully and exposed the studio side of their talent. If you have already listened to the CD, I strongly recommend to visit a live concert of Ragtime - which as a rule leaves no one indifferent. The live performance of the guys is extremely emotional as of their play an and the reaction of the listeners. That's when Arsen's improvisations become finer and deeper and the uncontrolled blues feeling becomes overwhelming. You should hear this!

The Ragtime's records as I've noticed before, have one curious peculiarity - every time you hear them again you like them more and more. The magic of rhythm and harmony overpowers you, and you don't get bored. Quite the opposite happens when you give another try to some records catchy at first glance. That's why I would recommend to pump up the volume, open up a Budweiser and listen to the excellent album of Ragtime again. (Fedor Romanenko,


Arsen Shomakhov - guitar, vocals
Aslan Zhantuyev - Bass
Sultanbek (Bek) Mamyshev - drums


01 - Please, Don't Drive Me Away 04:04

02 - Hard Way 05:18

03 - Boogie Boy 03:02

04 - Don't Answer The Door 07:36

05 - I Go Crazy 02:39

06 - Good Morning Little Schoolgirl 07:12

07 - Hoochie Coochie Man 04:52

08 - Don't Burn Down That Bridge 04:59

09 - Heavy Steppin' 05:49

10 - Don't You Even Care 05:31

11 - Don't Waste My Time 05:31

12 - Angel 04:42

Ragtime here:


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