The music on this disc and the related On the Boardwalk grew out of the discovery, in a warehouse on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, NJ, of a collection of music associated with the Arthur Pryor Orchestra -- an immensely popular touring band of the early twentieth century that embraced the ragtime craze wholeheartedly. The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra was a group of New York musicians formed to play the music in the collection; these albums, originally released in the late '80s, offer smooth technical command of some altogether delightful music. Both albums mix rags, which at the time were equally popular as piano music and in instrumental-ensemble versions, with instrumental versions of ragtime songs and with unsyncopated music like Pryor's own The Whistler and His Dog, a piccolo novelty that could easily have sounded irredeemably cornball but is subtle enough to be a lot of fun. The Pryor Orchestra performed two Desecration Rags, by Felix Arndt, Nos. 1 and 2; the first one, included on this disc, is devoted to famous symphonic tunes while An Operatic Nightmare: Desecration Rag No. 2 is heard on On the Boardwalk. If you want only one disc, this one is slightly preferable because of its more detailed notes; the booklet for On the Boardwalk gives only a quick account of the discovery of the materials and does not even list composers for the individual selections. Both discs contain plenty of top-notch music. The trio sections of the rag pieces are often set off quite differently from a Sousa march, and the orchestration in general is attractive and fresh. The examples of non-ragtime social dances of the era, such as the maxixe La Belle Parisienne, track 8, provide another reason to choose this disc over its partner. Both discs, however, are essential for libraries, and either one would be just offbeat enough to make an excellent gift for any bandmember or lover of band music.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim