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

2020-03-24
Bill Rieflin RIP – The sad news reaches us today of Bill Rieflin's death. Rieflin was best known as a drummer in bands ranging from post-punk to industrial to indie-rock to progressive rock, including work with The Blackouts, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Swans, Land, and King Crimson. Rieflin had been battling cancer for several years, and succumbed to it on March 24. He was 59. » Read more

2020-03-17
Cruise to the Edge and Seaprog 2020 Festivals Postponed – The worldwide outbreak of the novel coronavirus has started to produce casualties in the music world, and festivals are not immune. We've had word that both the Cruise to the Edge (originally slated for March 27 - April 1) and Seaprog (originally June 5-7) have been postponed to later dates, with those dates to be announced. » Read more

2020-03-06
McCoy Typer RIP – Word reaches us today of the passing of one of the most influential pianists in the history of jazz, McCoy Tyner. His tenure with John Coltrane in the early 60s includes some of the most treasured recordings of the era, including My Favorite Things and A Love Supreme. After leaving Coltrane's group, he had a long and successful solo career. He was 81. » Read more

2020-02-18
Jon Christensen RIP – Word reaches us today of the passing of Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen, a musician whose sensitive playing did much to help define the atmospheric sound of ECM jazz recordings. His work with Jan Garbarek, Bobo Stenson, Terje Rypdal, and many more was sensitive and varied, adapting to a wide variety of styles while maintaining a distinct identity of its own. Christensen was 76. » Read more

2020-01-21
Gong Announces UK Tour for 2020 – Having spent the last few years touring the world, including dates in Japan with psych legend Steve Hillage, multiple headline European tours and festivals, America’s Cruise to the Edge festival, a South America headline tour, and a headline performance at Tomorrow Festival in China, the band have won the hearts of both traditional and modern Gong fanbases. During this live journey, Gong has delved further into the truly psychedelic, exploratory, and mind-expanding side of the music. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

John Tavener - Eternity's Sunrise – The British composer John Tavener has struck a chord with a significant cross-over audience. Like Arvo Pärt, Tavener creates a sumptuously gorgeous music infused with his belief in God and a...  (1999) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues