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Frank Zappa - Ahead Of Their Time CD (album) cover

AHEAD OF THEIR TIME

Frank Zappa

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.23 | 76 ratings

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TCat
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Frank Zappa said that this was to be the last "Mothers" album. It was released in 1993 before his death, but the recording is from a much earlier concert, performed in 1968 at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Frank said that the band was their own opening act and that all the band members put on a play written by Frank with music performed mostly by 14 members of the BBC symphony. This recording of the play was previously available on the "Mystery Disc", but the rock portion of the concert was not previously available. Frank thought it was an important concert to have on record, so he put the entire show back together for consumer purchase, but he himself said it was only a "fair - not outstanding - Mothers of Invention rock concert performance".

So, this is the album that resulted from that decision. The first part of the album is the play which was entitled "Progress?" and, from what I can gather, it was pretty much a comedy, or satire, of life in a rock n roll band called the "Mothers". Knowing Frank, this was all based on events in the band, made into a funny skit, with a lot of dialogue (spoken parts) and music thrown in as needed. As mentioned earlier, Frank said the music was done by part of the BBC symphony, but I believe that a lot of it was also done by the band. What ever the case, the music itself is quite Avant-Garde, as you would expect from Frank's classical music. A lot of the music coincides with what is going on in the play itself, dramatizing things further. The "Prologue" to the play has many classical themes and sections from Mozart among others. This is track 1. Tracks 2 - 10 are the different parts of the play, some are only spoken parts, others are a mix of spoken parts and music. The recording is quite excellent, so there are no worries there. The problem is that we only have the audio portion of the play, and, judging from the audience's reactions, we miss quite a bit of the point of the play not being able to see it. You do catch part of the humor, and if you have the lyrics in front of you, it makes a little more sense, but it would have been better to actually see what was going on. Because of this, the first part of the album seems confusing and disjointed, and, if you didn't know that it was a play they were doing, you would start wondering what kind of ridiculousness is this anyway.

The good news about the album, is that the rest of the album is the "rock portion" of the concert. Things do get better at this point. Tracks 11 - 20 contain some decent examples of classic Mothers and Zappa recordings in this live setting. The "Epilogue" of the play flows right into the first track of this section, which is a rendition of the Zappa improvisational classic "King Kong". it is a decent version, but there are better ones out there, as on the "Uncle Meat" album. Next is a very short and very different version of "Help! I'm a Rock" mostly consisting of percussion with an even shorter vocal compared to the original version on the "Freak Out!" album. This is the last of the vocals on the album, as the rest of the album is instrumental. You will recognize a lot of the classic Mothers tunes, some of them will be improvised on and others are short and straight forward. Seasoned Zappa listeners will recognize pieces of this part of the performance from various other recordings and that is because Frank spliced them into other albums, like, for instance "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" and so on. Each track flows right into the other. The best tracks are the longer ones where the band does more improvisation as in "Pound for a Brown" and "Orange County Lumber Truck", but being interspersed with shorter snippets of Zappa melodies, it does break up the density of the improvisational sections.

Overall, it's an okay representation of the Mothers in concert, but there are better examples out there. The best part of the album is the musical performances, but the first half of the album definitely takes away from the rock/jazz fusion of the 2nd half. There are also many recordings that are a lot worse than this, so we can throw this one in the middle with 3 stars.

TCat | 3/5 |

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