Exposé Online banner

Frank Zappa / Ensemble Modern — The Yellow Shark
(Rykodisc RCD 40560, 1993/1995, CD)

by Mike Borella, Published 1995-03-01

The Yellow Shark Cover artOne of Zappa's complaints through the years was the difficulty of getting an orchestra to play his pieces the way he wanted them to. Enter the Ensemble Modern, a Frankfurt-based, self-sustained group dedicated to performing modern classical music. In classicisizing some of Zappa's classics, the Ensemble demonstrated their flexibility and Zappa his eclecticism. The disc (which has elaborate packaging, including an enormous booklet) begins slowly with "Dog Breath Variations" and "Uncle Meat," two pieces from Zappa's early career. While they translate nicely to an orchestra, there is very little that makes them stand out. The fact that they are re-worked pieces of rock music is obvious, as they come across as soundtrack music. With "Times Beach II," a turn toward the weird is made. This cut contains the expected Zappa quirkiness, subtlety mixed into an unobtrusive framework. The next tracks, "III Revised" and "Girl in the Magnesium Dress," smack of Edgard Varèse (of whom Zappa was a huge fan). After the angular, percussive "Be-bop Tango," the intricate piano duet of "Ruth is Sleeping," and the violin-dominated "None of the Above," comes another Varèsian piece, "Pentagon Afternoon." Soon after are the spoken-word pieces," Food Gathering in Post Industrial America, 1992" and "Welcome to the United States." Zappa conducts the group through these cuts, as they act out the words in music. The result is an eclectic, humorous amalgam of noise and broken themes. The next three tracks are quirky classical pieces, yet more conventional than some of the previous cuts. The disc is finished off with "G-Spot Tornado." To these ears, it is one of the weaker pieces on the album; while it contains unexpected twists and turns in the middle section, the main theme and the accompanying drum track get old very fast. Although this isn't the best disc for an introduction to the world of Frank Zappa, it does serve as an excellent starting point for the exploration of 20th century classical. On its own, it stands up very well, and is highly recommended to Zappa fans, or anyone with an ear for the experimental.

Filed under: Reissues, Issue 6, 1995 releases, 1993 recordings

Related artist(s): Frank Zappa

Latest news

2017-10-18
Phil Miller RIP – Sad word reaches us today of the passing of another of the great musicians of the Canterbury Scene — guitarist Phil Miller. His distinctive sound added greatly to Matching Mole, Hatfield and the North, and National Health, and he also contributed to albums by Caravan, Dave Stewart $amp; Barbara Gaskin, and many others. He was 68. » Read more

2017-10-13
Moonjune to Distribute Tony Levin's Back Catalog – It has been announced that Moonjune will now handle distribution for Tony Levin's catalog of releases. These great albums will now be a bit easier to get hold of, so check out the site and see what you're missing. The veteran of King Crimson and Stick Men worked with a host of great players on these albums, and we've reviewed most of them over the course of the years. » Read more

2017-09-26
Bandcamp Shines Light on Niches We Like – Bandcamp has developed into one of the best places to discover new music, and even a lot of old music is showing up there. In addition, their staff has been producing periodic articles spotlighting some interesting stylistic areas. On 20 September, they published one called "The New Face of Prog Rock" which bears checking out. » Read more

2017-09-06
Holger Czukay RIP – Holger Czukay, a musical experimentalist without boundaries who has been involved with expanding the sound palette of rock music since the late 60s, has died at the age of 79. After studying with Karlheinz Stockhausen in the early 60s, he became fascinated with the possibilities of rock music, and was a co-founder of the pioneering group Can. He leaves behind an impressive body of work both as musician and producer. » Read more

2017-08-22
John Abercrombie RIP – Another of the greats of jazz guitar has left us. John Abercrombie plied his way through a beautiful series of albums on the ECM label as well as bringing his talent to bear on albums by many of jazz's greatest artists. From his early work in the group Dreams to Gateway and outstanding work with Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette, Kenny Wheeler, and many more to his own trios and quartets, he brought a unique instrumental voice to the world. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

U.K. - Concert Classics Volume 4 – I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy of this live series disc at a local SF Bay area shop in the bin with the regular monthly releases. Considering that Volume 4 had supposedly been pulled by...  (2000) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues