Zez Confrey was born Edward Eleazar Confrey in Peru, Illinois on 3 April
Confrey is the Transatlantic counterpart of Billy Mayerl. If you like Mayerl
you will certainly like this.
The famous Kitten is a celebration of scatty, jazzy, high speed
prestidigitation. Skimming pianism and impressively whispered dynamics are
memorable elements of Dizzy Fingers. Then comes the more reflective,
though still faintly jazzy, Meandering where pacing is plastic - with
many shifts and changes of gear.
The African Suite is not at all an evocation of the jungle: High Hattin
is a jazzy saunter, Kinda Careless a Gershwinian blues drone,
Mississippi Shivers is over-shadowed by the influence of Gershwin
but has something of the great river in it.
Jay Walk is a light-fingered wander; Sparkling Waters: a Lisztian
essay with silvery runs. Yokel Opus is light and easy; Mighty
Lackawanna is the first seriously impressionistic piece on the disc.
The surface of the piece is undisturbed and although a rippling pulse keeps
things mobile the atmosphere is placid. It glows in a heat haze. The Sheriff's
Lament is back to Confrey's accustomed Keystone Cops scattiness (just
as suggested by the liner notes).
Amazonia is initially only very slightly Latino despite the protestation
of the liner notes. There is a rhumba-Havanaise trill to the piece. Blue
Tornado again displays Confrey, the light as air prestidigitator. The
Impromptu from Three Little Oddities (and they each have a
salon-style title) is rather Ravelian and definitely the serious Confrey.
The notes suggest the influence of Grieg and Macdowell on these pieces and
that parallel is spot-on. The final Novelette is almost complicated
enough to be Medtner but stops well short of that most of the time.
Coaxing The Piano starts storm-goaded and soon settles into the hectic fists
of notes we know from Kitten on the Keys. The largely placid
Stumbling was much admired by Copland who wrote of it that it typified
the jazz age with its independent rhythms spread over more than one measure.
Moods of a New Yorker's At Dusk is a tentative exercise in half lights,
rather like some uncertain grey evening portrayed by Frank Bridge. Movie
Ballet reminds us of some Russian ballet, perhaps by Glazunov. Relaxation
is a tender golden dream (which I recommend as a sample track). The Tango
is slinky with a slippery reference to the Carmen 'Habañera'.
The Rhythm Venture is earnestly jazzy - an escapee from Constant Lambert's
Rio Grande. The Fourth Dimension jumps with electricity.
The Three Little Oddities and Moods of a New Yorker are much
more serious than Kitten on the Keys and Confrey's reputation might
hint. For anyone who thinks they might be allergic to 'home fires' piano
stool virtuosity try these two suites first. They are not desperately profound,
but no matter; this music entertains and delights.
Confrey would, I am sure, be delighted with Eteri Andjaparidze's zippy and
zestful performances which, in addition to their glitter, also articulate
the poetry of the pieces.
I suspect there will be a band of Confrey enthusiasts who will be buying
this disc in quantity. Quite how the performances stack up against Confrey's
own 78s I do not know. I had not heard Confrey's music until I put this disc
in the player. Now at least I know that Confrey has a place in the history
of music. It may not be a very exalted one but he is a composer who has genuine
humour, zest and feeling for people and place. A definite discovery.
The English only notes are by Marina and Victor Ledin. They are specific,
informative and generally add to the musical experience.
The treasure of a thousand thousand piano stools!