The dude from Carl Newman’s old band

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In the mid-’90s, Jason Zumpano was the drummer (as well as the namesake) of the Vancouver power pop outfit Zumpano. The group achieved only moderate success, and would have likely been entirely forgotten if not for the later success of frontman Carl Newman. As it is, Zumpano’s place in the indie rock canon is as a biographical footnote in the career of the New Pornographers. This may not be the most glorious legacy imaginable, but it means that any release by Jason Zumpano will have a small guaranteed market based on his name alone.

I had seen his new album, Roses $9.99 a Dozen, advertised at Zulu Records and on the playlist at CiTR 101.9, so, on a whim, I decided to give it a listen. Rather than the pop rock I expected, however, I discovered that the album is entirely instrumental, made up of solo piano compositions. The album’s 12 tracks (the titular “dozen,” I suppose) can’t quite be classified as songs, but are closer to classical pieces—only the steadily pounding left hand chords suggest that the composer might have a background in rock music. The pieces are mostly jaunty and upbeat, bearing a vague similarity to Vince Guaraldi‘s soundtrack for Charlie Brown. Except, without a jazz trio to back him up, Jason Zumpano’s music is harder to place; this is an album that truly earns the “Unclassifiable” genre tag on iTunes.

Further research revealed that Roses $9.99 a Dozen is actually not intended as a stand-alone album, but as a collaboration with visual artist Shayne Ehman. It makes sense that the music is meant to have visual accompaniment, since it would make for an excellent movie soundtrack—preferably for a Jane Austen film, or an indie flick about the romantic tribulations of a lovable sociopath. It would probably also serve very well as dinner music. (Next time I have a family sit-down meal, I’ll put it on and let you know how it goes.)

But the best thing about Roses $9.99 a Dozen is its value as a curiosity—it’s fascinating that an album like this can be made at all. No label in the world would have chosen to release this album had not come from a (somewhat) notable name. This isn’t an insult—I think it’s fantastic that an album as off-the-wall as this is being released by Catbird Records, a label that usually specializes in indie rock. And here’s the best part—the label has already sold out of the album.

Although I had never heard of his solo work until now, Roses $9.99 a Dozen is actually his fourth album of piano music. His website contains free downloads from each of the albums, so be sure to give them listen (and maybe compile a playlist for your next dinner party).

mp3: “Beggars of Blue Sky”
 
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