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Frank Zappa - The Yellow Shark CD (album) cover


Frank Zappa



3.89 | 131 ratings

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4 stars These white-tie and tail adaptations of Frank Zappa's music by a 21-piece chamber orchestra might be an acquired taste for even the most hardcore avant-progger. But the CD itself is still essential listening, as the last new recording heard in Zappa's lifetime, released only one month before his untimely death from prostate cancer.

The melancholy portrait of the artist on the CD cover speaks volumes. Zappa hadn't even reached the age of 52 when he passed away in 1993, but will forever regard us here with the haggard gaze of a man looking 20-years older. And yet, despite both his failing health and the highbrow formality of the occasion, he never lost his subversive wit, best heard in the tongue-in-cheek opening announcements (so what was the secret word for the night, anyway?), and in the bureaucratic satire "Welcome to the United States", read aloud from an actual Dept. of Immigration form.

The program kicks off on an easygoing note with a relatively straightforward, brassy performance of the Uncle Meat "Dog Breath Variations". But the music gets more esoteric very quickly, leading to a brave arrangement of the near-impossible-to-perform "G-Spot Tornado", from the 1986 "Jazz From Hell" album: proof that a Synclavier is no substitution for living, breathing musicians.

This parting gig would see the last, full blooming of Zappa's lifelong passion for modern classical notation. Avant-garde dissonance was his first true musical love, outlasting even a youthful crush on Doo-Wop and R&B. By the end of his life he'd traveled down many roads, but at heart was still the same awkward kid improvising musique concrète on a bicycle frame alongside a bemused Steve Allen. Visibly older, a good deal wiser, and fatally ill, Frank Zappa's long career had come full circle, in what must have seemed a blink of an eye.

A bittersweet experience, beautifully realized.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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