Sunday, December 4, 2011

Zappadan 2011 London Symphony Orchestra Vol. 1 1983 and Vol. 2 1987

Welcome to Zappadan. From Dec 4 to Dec 21, we celebrate the life and work of a great modern composer, and one heck of an axe ripper as well. I thought I'd kick off the proceedings by reviewing some of Frank's least familiar work. There is no guitar on these records, and of course, no singing either. Both were recorded in 1983 with Kent Nagano conducting. Zappa is the orchestra's harshest critic, complaining about the performance quality in his own liner notes. But there is some fine music to be had here.

Sad Jane is a moody, Varese-like, highly percussive piece scattered with easy to hear, frequent Zappa motifs, such as discordant strings (often portrayed vocally on his rock records) and quick, jarring percussion-driven tempo changes. It's very entertaining. Pedro's Dowry features horns and strings in a spastic battle, again with much percussion (Frank loved vibes). Tensely disjointed, almost arhythmic at times, it's challenging. Near the end is a percussion-driven section that benefits greatly from a remarkable violin solo. Side one ends with Envelopes, which starts softer than most of Frank's work, and is lovely, and then breaks into a strange fairy march section that reminds me of a cartoon chase scene soundtrack.

Side two of the original Vol. 1 is Mo 'N Herb's vacation, which, at 27 minutes, is a lot of weirdness, even for the devoted. There's probably something important going on that I can't understand. It just never seems to get off the ground, or make a coherent statement. Your results may vary.

Vol. 2 opens with Bogus Pomp, another full-scale piece at 24 minutes, but this time things are more cohesive. Zappa describes the piece as a parody of movie music cliches and mannerisms, and it's fun to hear Zappa's take on that idea. Using traditional symphonic elements of build tension, relax tension, build tension patterns, Zappa has fun with the theme and lets the listener have a good time, too. Bob In Dacron follows, and begins with what Zappa calls a "musical description of patterns which do not blend", and yet it still works surprisingly well. The second section returns to the repeated build/relax tension pattern, and is symphonic in structure while both rhythmically and melodically challenging. It's real good. Strictly Genteel ends the record, and has been a very good finale structure since it's use as such in 200 Motels, and the big orchestra does a fine job, even if Frank is pissed at the trumpet section.   

Both records are available on a more recent 2-CD package, with a different running order, as Bob In Dacron and Sad Jane were designed as two parts of one piece.

I've mentioned Zappa several times before here at this blog, so if you want more Zappa, try these: Z  A   P  P  A     (Yes, it's an apostrophe, i.e. the crux of the biscuit).


  1. Hey, thanks for playing! I'll update my post with a link.

  2. Thanks. I shall definitely mention this post as I'm listing to The Yellow Shark this year.