Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stanley Zappa, Matthew Shipp and the Fazioli

I don't remember what my first contact with Stanley Jason Zappa was, but I'm pretty sure it happened because we both write blogs.  Stanley's blog is called It Is Not Mean If It Is True (Attack, Attack, Attack).  I don't have the slightest idea exactly what that title means although when Mixed Meters had a blogroll it was listed there.  He lives in the cold part of Canada.   He must be a smart guy because he can write about Theodore Adorno.

And yes, S.J. Zappa shares some DNA with the much more famous F. V. Zappa.  I'm pretty sure they were never close.

Stanley Zappa is into jazz, free jazz in particular.  He plays saxophone and clarinet and maybe other things. 

Here is a video of Stanley playing a very free tenor solo (and doing it very well) along with a Finnish Zappa tribute band.  They introduce him by playing the one thing you always hear before out-there free tenor saxophone solos, the very famous, very un-free Finnish tango Satumaa. (Stanley's solo starts about 2'24".)

Stanley Zappa also writes quite articulately about jazz.  And he promotes jazz things he likes.

That's why he recently sent me a link to a Kickstarter project promoting a proposed film project with filmmaker Barbara Januszkiewicz and pianist Matthew Shipp.  Stanley asked me to pass it along to you.  You can click the link and pledge money to the film.  There's only a few days left and they have a lot of money left to raise.  I think it's kind of like a down-to-the-wire NPR fundraiser.

The film will be called The Composer.  In this case the composer is the pianist.  The pianist is Matthew Shipp.  But the important question is ... what kind of piano is it?

Stanley Zappa's essay promoting this project - entitled Fifty Note Cluster - finds particular significance in the specific brand of piano to be used.  It's a Fazioli, a high-quality Italian job.  He writes:
A contemporary piano like the Fazioli, designed and built in the late 20th century, deserves, nay, demands the music of our time.  One has to wonder if Bach or Chopin would have written the same music if they had a Fazioli with which to work out their musical ideas.

With Shipp, unbound by century old harmonic conventions, the totality of the Fazioli's tonal are fair use.  A piano as capable and "creative" as the Fazioli deserves a pianist capable of creative exploiting the unique qualities of the Fazioli as Shipp.
Faziolis are expensive. Watch this news clip to learn about one that was for sale for a half mil.

Mixed Meters has written about expensive pianos before.  Read the MM post The Price of a (Lousy) Piano about the instrument in the film Casablanca.  In 2006 it was valued at five times more than the top Fazioli is today and certainly sounded much, much, much worse.

Personally, I have less interest in what instrument a soloist is using or how it sounds than I have in the notes that are actually being played.  That's why I think the real story here is not free sax solos in the middle of famous Finnish tangos nor fancy Italian fortepianos in underfunded Kickstarter movies.  I think maybe Matthew Shipp is a man to watch.  I mean a man to listen to.

Free jazz on the piano has a problem of wrong notes.  When there are a lot of non-standard harmonies it is all too easy to criticize every dissonance as accidental.  But Matthew Shipp plays cleanly and playing cleanly impresses me.  In this (very underwatched) video he's obviously hitting the notes that he intends to hit (even if he is doing it on a Steinway).  That means we're hearing the music he intends to make.  That, my friends, is a great and all too rare art. 

There's a lot more of Matthew Shipp on YouTube and Spotify.  Probably other places as well.

Clean Tags: . . . . . . . . .

1 comment :

Stanley Jason Zappa said...

Funding secured, victory achieved!


Thanking you for all your help!