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CD Review

Zez Confrey

Naxos 8.559016

Piano Music

  • Kitten on the Keys
  • Dizzy Fingers
  • Meandering
  • African Suite
  • Jay Walk
  • Sparkling Waters
  • Wise Cracker Suite
  • Amazonia
  • Blue Tornado
  • Three Little Oddities
  • Coaxing the Piano
  • Stumbling (Paraphrase)
  • Moods of a New Yorker
  • Rhythm Venture
  • Fourth Dimension
Eteri Andjaparidze, piano
Naxos 8.559016 DDD 62:29
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan

Because he never established himself as a great popular songwriter in the way that George Gershwin did, Edward Elzear ("Zez") Confrey (1895-1971) was unable to hold on to his fame once his performing heyday was over. In the 1920s, however, Gershwin's and Confrey's names were spoken in one breath, and the two men headlined Paul Whiteman's famous "An Experiment in Modern Music," the concert in which Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue was first introduced. At the same concert, Confrey played Kitten on the Keys, the whirling ragtime showpiece that opens this disc. This is Confrey's signature work, and it is an amazing display of rhythmic and harmonic dexterity. Its raggy rhythms certainly cast a glance backwards at Scott Joplin, but the piece was modern for its time, and even "Fats" Waller – both as a pianist and as a composer – would have been hard-pressed to outdo Confrey here.

This breakthrough CD, released in Naxos' "American Classics" series, contains several other descriptive works in this pyrotechnic vein. There was more to Confrey than Jazz Age études, however. He was a master of the winsome miniature, and a "quick sketch" artist whose likes have seldom been seen. In all, there are 24 short pieces on this disc, and no two are alike. Confrey's classical training can be deduced from the surprising harmonies in Moods of a New Yorker, a set of four pieces from 1932 that is surprisingly introspective. You can almost see the dust motes and the watery light in "At Dusk," which opens the set. Fourth Dimension, written as late as 1959, is similarly uncanny, and the Three Little Oddities (1923) earn their name with their pleasantly curdled harmonies. Who knew that Confrey was such an intriguing composer? Only a few specialists, I suppose. Naxos has struck gold with this CD, and everyone can benefit from hearing this joy-giving music.

Furthermore, who knew that a pianist from the former Republic of Georgia would be such a convincing advocate? Andjaparidze, an award-winning child prodigy who successfully moved into adulthood, earning still more prizes in the process, now lives in New York City. She performs throughout the United States and teaches in the New York City area. There's nothing her fingers can't do – her fingerwork is seamless – and her grasp on the style is firm. Andjaparidze and Naxos have a hit on their hands. This deserves to be one of Naxos' best-selling CDs ever. Be the first person on your block to catch Confrey fever.

Copyright © 2000, Raymond Tuttle

Trumpet