Humidity Rag (2021)
Commissioned by James Palmer
Premiered February 1, 2021
James Palmer, piano
written by James Palmer
In 2021, I launched a multi-composer commission project called “What is a Piano Prelude?” As an experiment, each composer involved was asked to compose a “piano prelude” in their own style/vision with the goal of answering the question in the commission’s title.
Humidity Rag was Nicky’s response to this question.
Marked “Sticky,” this charming piece is essentially a written-out jazz solo for piano that easily matches in substance, originality, and difficulty the similarly-oriented writing of composers like Nikolai Kapustin. The right hand’s opening motive turns out to be the main theme of the piece; this versatile motive, with slight variations, is the backbone of each major section in a loose, small-scale sonata form. At the beginning of Humidity Rag, the main motive is situated in a murky whole-tone sound world that gives the sense of stickiness indicated by the composer. The harmonic fog begins to lift as this section continues; the theme is then presented extrovertedly atop a soulful, repeating I-IV pedal, reminiscent of the harmonic rocking-back-and-forth of twelve-bar blues.
A short developmental section ensues, incorporating grand, virtuosic gestures that perhaps recall the ecstatic writing of Scriabin. We then re-enter the murky, sticky sound world that opened the piece, this time punctuated with short riffs and cadenzas. After landing on a dominant pedal, the music builds intensely into an impassioned statement of the main motive, marked “Nowhere to escape.” After this emotional climax, the music winds down, aided by the markings “Even stickier than before” and “Sorry ... even stickier!” The main theme is again the backbone for the closing material, a nostalgic, endearing dénouement to this quirky piece. Humidity Rag comes to a close with an ascending arpeggiated flourish and a spunky, sticky, sforzando chord.