Eteri Andjaparidze

Zez Confrey: Piano Music

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Zez Confrey's compositions for piano deserve a better shake than they've been getting over the past 80 years or so. While historical recordings made by Confrey himself are delightful and exciting to those who enjoy such innocent fun, these 1995 realizations by Georgian pianist Eteri Andjaparidze expand the lens a bit and allow for a glimpse at the composer's full range of musical ideas. The primary stratum consists of Confrey's most famous novelties: 1921's "Kitten on the Keys," "Coaxing the Piano," and "Stumbling" from 1922, and the showoff's "Dizzy Fingers" of 1923. These pleasant little ragtime-flavored pieces of pop piano illustrate both why the average American enjoyed such stuff and why Harlem stride piano ace Willie "The Lion" Smith spoke so disparagingly of what he regarded as know-nothing ragtimers, meaning those who helped to popularize and perpetuate the often improvisationally limited Tin Pan Alley approach to piano playing. Fortunately, the works presented here prove that Confrey was capable of tapping into some of the same creative traditions as the Lion himself preferred. "African Suite," from 1924, is without question the strongest music of the entire album. Here there is more of an authentic involvement with genuine ragtime and even jazz. Confrey, in fact, appears to have been listening carefully to James P. Johnson, George Gershwin, and maybe even Fats Waller. Whoever the actual influences were, real jazz was in the air and Confrey welcomed its soulful sonorities into some of his own original compositions. European classical music was where Zez drew much of his inspiration, and his 1927 opus "Sparkling Waters" brings Chopin to mind. While Ravel and Debussy have been named as role models, there is something positively Grieg-like about the "Three Little Oddities" of 1923. "Moods of a New Yorker," a suite dating from 1932, sounds like something from the mind of Oscar Levant. Even though Confrey's 1936 "Wise Cracker Suite" is as American as William Carlos Williams, its musical taproots lie almost entirely within the European classical tradition. If "Rhythm Venture" of 1935 is an exercise in tonal experimentation, "Fourth Dimension" shows listeners that by 1959 Confrey was capable of creating what could almost be described as a George Jetson ragtime number, intricate and quaintly futuristic.

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