Frank Zappa / Ensemble Modern — The Yellow Shark
(Rykodisc RCD 40560, 1993/1995, CD)
by Mike Borella, Published 1995-03-01One 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.
Related artist(s): Frank Zappa
Roswell Rudd RIP – Jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd, one of the distinctive players of his instrument in many strains of music, has died at the age of 82. With a career stretching back to the early 60s and over a hundred recordings featuring his playing, he leaves behind a substantial legacy. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2013. » Read more
Celebrate 10 Years of Fruits de Mer – As a special celebration for a decade of cool vinyl releases, our friends at Fruits de Mer records have prepared a limited edition reissue of an album by the first band ever to appear on the label: Schizo Fun Addict. The band is known for unusual release strag » Read more
Mega Dodo Presents New Charity Album – Our friends at Mega Dodo have put together a lovely compilation of their artists performing new arrangements of nursery rhymes, and all the profits from sales of the album will benefit Save the Children. It features a number of artists we've covered. » Read more
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 & Barbara Gaskin, and many others. He was 68. » Read more