Spitznagel’s skill is never in question on this disc. His fortes are powerful, his pianissimos whisper and he doesn’t hesitate to juxtapose the two. His interpretations are anything but stereotypical – one hardly knows what to expect next!
Ragtime legend Max Morath says “Tricky Fingers is simply a stunning piece of work.” Jazz pianist Tony Caramia calls Martin Spitznagel a “young man who approaches Ragtime with the vitality, strength, enthusiasm, gusto, and spirit that it deserves.” And reviewer Jack Rummel declares Tricky Fingers “an impressive first recording.”
Anyone who has heard Martin Spitznagel play knows the energy and imagination he brings to all of his performances. He approaches ragtime not as a historical curiosity bound in a particular era, but as a living music as fresh and vibrant today as it ever was.
He has been featured at dozens of ragtime and jazz festivals across the United States, including the West Coast Ragtime Festival (Sacramento, California), the San Antonio Ragtime Festival (San Antonio, Texas), the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival (Sedalia, Missouri), and the Alexandria Bay Ragtime Festival (Alexandria Bay, New York). Tricky Fingers showcases not only Spitznagel’s deep interest in the music of Eubie Blake, but ably demonstrates his remarkable versatility in performing music by Scott Joplin, Billy Mayerl, and George Gershwin alongside more recent ragtime-inspired compositions by Robin Frost, Adam Swanson, and Spitznagel himself (including his engaging “Red Elephant Rag,” winner of the 2007 World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest’s New Rag Competition).
Too often in the world of jazz and ragtime music, performers just don’t sound the same on recordings as they do in person. Either their recorded performances have been electronically cobbled together from many different “takes” so that the finished result becomes “too perfect,” or else the sterile studio atmosphere – playing take after take – dampens the energy leaving the recording sounding dull and lifeless. As with other Rivermont CDs, the performances on this disc were recorded without the use of excessive digital trickery, allowing Spitznagel’s superb artistry to speak for itself.
Included with the CD is a beautiful 12-page full-color booklet with photographs, reproductions of sheet music covers, extensive notes by the artist, and an introduction by Tony Caramia, who writes “Play this CD if you prefer your ragtime powerful, vigorous, robust, energetic, and full of the surprises and energy of youth… [Spitznagel's] playing is nothing short of remarkable, exhausting, and utterly astonishing.” 55 minutes. - Bryan Wright