Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Zappadan 2011 Orchestral Music

Over at Ketchup Is A Vegetable, Brady Bonk is listening to The Yellow Shark. This is real commitment, people, this needs to be taken very seriously. And the posts are great. After my last post regarding the LSO recordings, perhaps a  brief history of Zappa's orchestral music deserves mention.

I suppose the first foray is 1967's Lumpy Gravy, almost completely instrumental, and featuring a full orchestra. The great music is interspersed with inane raps and bits of conversation, but the big inventions are there. Oh No, King Kong, Envelopes and several others are fine, but it is a hard listen today. Frank was really pushing it, and he wasn't quite fully developed, but you've gotta admire the cajones it took to release it in 1967. 

Next up would be Uncle Meat 1969, which introduces us to Uncle Meat, Dog Breath, and King Kong, and their variations, all performed by rock band, but later exposed as works intended for orchestra. The Royal Philharmonic played on 200 Motels 1971, and while some of the music is OK (the 11-minute Strictly Genteel stands out), much of the record is unlistenable in an annoying way unlike almost any other Zappa work. The Tuna Fish suite and the Overture both show Zappa developing his classical style, and signal the rich work that is to come. 1972's magnum opus, The Grand Wazoo, should count, but that is really a record made for a big band (the jazz kind), not a big orchestra.

But in 1979, Orchestral Favorites was released, and it's a beauty. Featuring Strictly Genteel, Pedro's Dowery, Duke Of Prunes and Bogus Pomp, and recorded live with full orchestra, it's killer stuff. It all was intended for Lather, and was reissued on the 3 CD Lather set in 1996. Much of the material ended up on the LSO recordings as well.

The first LSO recording was released in 1983, and shortly on it's heals was Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger 1984, with many a homage to Varese, whom Boulez also promoted as a unique 20th century composer. It's a pretty fine record, and certainly challenging enough. If you're ready for Frank's modern classical music, here you go. Boulez is a great conductor, but he seems to take some of the crazy out of Zappa's work. LSO Volume 2 Came out in 1987.

Which brings us to The Yellow Shark 1993, a magnificent recording, made just before Zappa's death, and performed exquisitely by the Ensemble Moderne. Including a few new compositions, it was the last release during Zappa's lifetime. If following Brady's blog this Zappadan doesn't make you run out and buy the record, it's a real shame. Unless you don't like it. Zappa made enough fine, almost regular rock records, plenty of jazz-rock, and tons of wacky rock-jazz hybrids (with a pinch of doo-wop) to please anyone, but these orchestral works may very well be the ones Zappa himself most wanted you to hear.

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