Cembal d'amour's Mordecai Shehori Plays Zez Confrey features the esteemed Israeli pianist in an ambitious program of 28 pieces by Zez Confrey, the "King of Novelty Ragtime." Shehori has one thing dead right about Confrey; his music does "defy categorization" and to drag out the old King of Novelty Ragtime adage may seem inappropriate in this context, given that Shehori is really looking to expand perception of Confrey's range in this package. Ten pieces on this disc haven't appeared on recordings before, at least in the CD era -- including such stunning curiosities as Lullaby from Mars (1935) and Grandfather's Clock (1933) -- and it would have been nice if there had been some discussion of their provenance in Shehori's notes, which are appreciative, but concentrate on describing the perceived end result of the pieces. Shehori has lately relocated from New York City -- a place where his concert appearances were well attended to by critics -- to Las Vegas "where he enjoys healthier weather and beautiful mountain views, allowing him to focus more intensely on concert preparations." This recording was made in Las Vegas, and apparently not in a proper recording studio; the piano sound is rather distant, ringing at times and unpredictable in volume, though one gets used to it. It sounds like someone playing the piano within your home rather than in a studio or concert situation, which is not so bad. However, with some familiar pieces, Shehori can be kind of willful and moves off the text to some extent, such as in Kitten on the Keys and Greenwich Witch; in certain places, little mistakes emerge and the playing, while spirited throughout, has an uneven quality. The notes, cover, and inlay card are clearly set up and printed on a PC and are not done too badly, though they look cheap and the title on the front and back cover is the incomplete "Mordecai Shehori Plays Zez Confrey's," whereas the title given on the disc is what appears above.
Nevertheless, the listeners who are really going to care about Mordecai Shehori Plays Zez Confrey are going to be interested in the 10 previously unrecorded pieces included, and they are worth it -- Confrey's special genius and talent resonates through all but his gloss on Felix Mendelssohn's Spring Song, which seems like it was not a wholly serious transformation of the tune so much as a gag; moreover, there are some rough edits in that particular track. The feline on the front cover is Ms. Pookie, who apparently was not pressed into performing Kitten on the Keys, but is "a music lover and an advocate for feline rights." Great; perhaps she can inform us as to the origin and background of the new pieces included!