The magnificent Art Tatum album, Piano Starts Here, which combines his first four solo recordings from 1933 with a slightly abridged version of his 1949 Shrine Auditorium concert, has been chosen as the second “re-performance” release in a series created by Zenph Studios for Sony Classical. The most prosaic question it raises is this: In what end-of-year awards category can you vote for it? It is obviously not a new performance, because every note (save two minutes that Columbia cut from “Gershwin Medley,” rendering it as “The Man I Love”) has been available for decades-on 78s, 45s, 10- and 12-inch LPs and CD. But neither is it a reissue, because it is entirely unconcerned with transferring or improving old records. Zenph goes beyond the recording process in an effort to recreate the performance itself.
If this sounds like science fiction, join the club. I’ve interviewed two Zenphians and spent many hours with the Sony disc, now called, inaccurately, Piano Starts Here: Live at the Shrine (the 1933 solos are still included), along with computer-generated transcriptions of four performances, and I am still in the technological dark. But let me, as a semi-reformed Luddite, try to explain.