RAMSIER: Three Lyric Pieces (piano); Zoo of Dreams I, “WalrusBird” (contrabass); Variations, The Grand Bass Gavotte, Bicycle (from Pieces for Friends, Vol. II (piano, contrabass); Transcriptions (6 Early Scriabin Pieces; J.S. Bach Preludes and Gallentries) (piano); The Low-Note Blues (A Musical Tale for Children) (narrator, piano); Pied Piper (piano)
John Miller, contrabass and narrator; Paul Ramsier, piano.
Albany TROY 554 (DDD) (F) TT: 67:50

This collection of mostly early works by Ramsier is a pendant to his collection of double bass and orchestral works on Albany TROY 237 (REVIEW). None is long, none is harmonically “advanced” (Ramsier was a neo-Romantic before the term came into use), yet almost all have a subtly distinctive aura and much charm. Pied Piper was the genesis of Road to Hamelin for narrator, bassist and orchestra on the previous disc. Zoo of Dreams, by now a cycle with subtitles, has private connotations for the composer but challenges for the solo bassist. The Scriabin and Bach transcriptions are expert without crossing the boundary into Ego-tripping, and remind those of us who have known the composer in past (since 1951 in my own case, despite a long hiatus) that he was a keyboard pupil of Ernst von Dohnányi at Florida State U, and later staff pianist for the New York City Ballet during George Balanchine’s creative prime. Ramsier was reluctant to come out of retirement, fearful that his technique had rusted beyond use; fortunately, practice proved him wrong. Without flash or furbelows, he is an expressive exponent of his music.

John Miller is a new name, however—principal bassist of the Florida West Coast Symphony Orchestra in Sarasota, where Ramsier relocated in 1999 after half a century in New York City (and half of those as a clinical psychologist). Miller succeeds the retired Gary Karr, for whom Ramsier found himself court composer in effect at the same time he created a viable and much enlarged repertory for that instrument. Miller has a honeyed tone and plenty of technique, not only as a player but as a narrative personality in The Low-Note Blues. Just as Horowitz never effaced Rachmaninov, Miller does not surpass Karr in the latter’s prime, but he comes close with his own spin on tone and technique, and bests the “master” as a narrator (whose over-the-top amateurism was the single caveat in the Road to Hamelin on TROY 237).

If you have children, this could prove fascinating and perhaps a spur to practice more, even to take up an instrument. As a listening experience in sum or in parts, after the alarums and excursions of Late Night TV News, I should think sentient adults would find it a welcome change. The recorded sound from Sarasota honors the standards of Albany’s TROY series. From here, you take the shuttlecock and play with it.

R.D. (September 2003)