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Frank Zappa The Yellow Shark album cover
3.89 | 155 ratings | 11 reviews | 32% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Live, released in 1993

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Intro (1:43)
2. Dog Breath Variations (2:07)
3. Uncle Meat (3:24)
4. Outrage at Valdez (3:27)
5. Times Beach II (7:31)
6. III Revised (1:45)
7. The Girl in the Magnesium Dress (4:33)
8. Be-Bop Tango (3:43)
9. Ruth Is Sleeping (5:56)
10. None of the Above (2:17)
11. Pentagon Afternoon (2:28)
12. Questi Cazzi Di Piccione (3:03)
13. Times Beach III (4:26)
14. Food Gathering in Post-Industrial America, 1992 (2:52)
15. Welcome to the United States (6:39)
16. Pound for a Brown (2:12)
17. Exercise No. 4 (1:37)
18. Get Whitey (7:00)
19. G-Spot Tornado (5:17)

Total Time 72:02

Line-up / Musicians

- Frank Zappa / conductor, producer, performer
- Peter Rundel / conductor, violin
- Dietmar Wiesner / flute
- Catherine Milliken / oboe, english horn, bass oboe[2], didjeridu
- Roland Diry / clarinet
- Wolfgang Stryi / bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, contrabass clarinet
- Veit Scholz / bassoon, contrabassoon
- Franck Ollu, Stefan Dohr / french horn
- William Formann, Michael Gross / cornet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet, trumpet
- Uwe Dierksen / trombone, soprano trombone
- Michael Svoboda / trombone, euphonium, didjeridu, alphorn
- Daryl Smith / tuba
- Herman Kretzschmar / celeste, harpsichord, voices, piano
- Ueli Wiget / celeste, harpsichord, harp, piano
- Rumi Ogawa-Helferich / cymbalom, percussion
- Andreas Böttger / percussion
- Detlef Tewes / mandolin
- Jürgen Ruck / banjo, guitar
- Ellen Wegner / harp
- Mathias Tacke, Claudia Sack / violin
- Hilary Sturt / violin, voices
- Friedemann Dähn / violoncello
- Thomas Fichter / contrabass, Fichter electric upright bass

Releases information

Rykodisc #RCD 40560

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to LiquidEternity for the last updates
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Buy FRANK ZAPPA The Yellow Shark Music

FRANK ZAPPA The Yellow Shark ratings distribution

(155 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(32%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(43%)
Good, but non-essential (18%)
Collectors/fans only (5%)
Poor. Only for completionists (1%)

FRANK ZAPPA The Yellow Shark reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Man With Hat
COLLABORATOR Jazz-Rock/Fusion/Canterbury Team
4 stars Wonderful. Absolutely great. This is the definnative album for Zappa's "classical" music. Emsomble Modern does a wonderful job of playing, weather it is new or old. This is a very fitting farewell to Frank Zappa. Everything here is great. Food very great. Wonderful job by who ever did the speaking. Welcome To The United States is very funny. Peter did a fantastic job speaking. The best by far, on this album, would be G-Spot Tornado. Stunning! I am amazed how well they pulled off this song. Absolutly fantastic! All in all a wonderful album, desevered to be listen to by all.
Review by Mellotron Storm
3 stars I wished I liked orchestral/classical music more. This being Frank's last studio album before he died is special, it's just not my favourite style of music that's all. It does seem like he fulfilled a dream in doing these live concerts over in Europe.The best performances were taken and used on this album called "The Yellow Shark". A thick booklet comes with it detailing how this came about, the process, the concerts, interviews with those involved, pictures and lots more. I was surprised at some of the people who are thanked, different actors and famous people that I guess were friends and acquaintances of Frank and Gail Zappa. People like Jack Nicholson, Beverly D'Angelo, Yoko Ono, Tom & Roseanne Arnold, Matt Groening, Larry Flynt, Stephen Hawking, Johnny Carson, Dennis Miller and lots more including their kids Diva, Ahmet, Dweezil and Moon.

I really enjoyed what I thought was a similar album to this called "The Perfect Stranger" which it turns out has more in common with UNIVERS ZERO than "The Yellow Shark". I love how enthusiastic the audiences are during these live shows. And in the intro Frank tells them "Now lets get serious ladies and gentlemen..." and ends his opening dialogue by saying "If you feel like throwing underpants on the stage throw them over here". The first 3 tracks are orchestral, almost sounding like a movie soundtrack actually. Then we get to "Times Beach II" which I like a lot more as it is slower chamber music with different sounds coming and going.

More of this music on "The Girl In The Magnesium Dress" which was actually on "The Perfect Stranger". "Ruth Is Sleeping" might be my favourite as it is darker and almost UNIVERS ZERO-like to begin with. We get a ton of violin on both "III Revised" and "None Of The Above". More modern chamber music on "Questi Cazzi Di Piccione" and "Times Beach III". Both are highlights for me. The next 4 songs I can take them or leave them. There are some skits involved on a couple of them. Then we get to "Get Whitey" a cool,slow moving piece. The final song is "G-Spot Tornado" which was taken from the "Jazz From Hell" album. It's an uptempo and fun track.

This album isn't high on my enjoyment scale, but it is high on my admiration scale. 3.5 stars.

Review by darkshade
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars This review is based on the 2012 reissue.

The Yellow Shark is such a great album. It's breathtaking at times, and doesn't get all tense, scary, and nervous like the London Symphony Orchestra album does (which is a totally different beast of an album anyway). Frank comes out and tells the audience to "get serious, folks", even though he says to throw any panties off to the side of the stage.

The Zappa classics that get a makeover here are outstanding, and rival their earlier versions. I'm especially keen on the Dog Breath Variations and the Uncle Meat theme, because they translate so well to an orchestra. The sound is also outstanding, not only one of the best sounding Frank Zappa albums, but also one of the best sounding albums from anyone that I've ever heard.

Most of the tunes get a HUGE applause from the crowd, especially the final G-Spot Tornado, which itself is a remarkable rendition of a tune Zappa originally wrote for the Synclavier machine on Jazz From Hell, never meant to be played by actual musicians, but the crowd roars with cheers and applause, and apparently went on for over 20 minutes, and the fade out with the crowd still going crazy is a testament to that. I don't know if I've ever heard a live recording from any band or artist where the applause lasted so long that they eventually had to fade it out, as we do get to hear a good chunk of it. Another synclavier song that made it here is The Girl In The Magnesium Dress, which sounds cool because I think Frank wrote it with just his hands going up and down the keys of the synclavier keyboard, yet it got transcribed and played by this wonderful orchestra.

As for the new songs, they are also excellent. Some of them are minimalistic, as that seems to be the direction Zappa was going, but I believe the direction he took in the early 90s was, in part, due to his diagnosis of having cancer. Still, songs like Food Gathering in Post-Industrial America, 1992 and Welcome To The United States are some of the coolest pieces of music Frank wrote. The former brings some humor which was missing from a few tracks prior. The latter is cool because a form given to people entering the U.S. is recited over the music, which itself is very dramatic, and in classic Zappa form, reacts to what is being said by the performer. It reminds me of something Captain Beefheart would do, like on The Grand Wazoo from The Lost Episodes (not to be confused with The Grand Wazoo from the album of the same name; The Lost Episodes one is a completely different song).

The case it comes in is beautiful, and the pictures in the giant booklet are great; some are funny, some are just plain cool, but there's one that makes me sad, it's the last one, with some of the guys Frank worked with around that time, like producers and mixers, and they're sitting around him and everyone is smiling, but Frank clearly hadn't shaved for months, meaning the pic was taken not too long before he passed. He knew his time was coming.

I always put The Yellow Shark off because I wasn't ready for it and other orchestral albums because I just wanted the rock and fusion stuff back when I first got into his music. And then when the reissues started coming out and I started collecting them, I still held off on getting The Yellow Shark (and Civilization Phaze III still), but now I realize that was a major error on my part, and I've been keeping myself from listening to one of Zappa's last great works, and it really is one of the best projects he ever put together. If only he had even a few more months to cherish it. He always said he made music for himself, and if others liked it, cool. But us fans have had more time to digest those last couple of releases than he ever did, even though he wrote the music. Point is, The Yellow Shark is magnificent, and I only wish I got it sooner, but now I can listen to it whenever I want.

Don't hold off on getting this album if you are a Zappa fan already, this is an essential piece of music. I wouldn't recommend this to a Zappa newbie, but maybe after you've got 10 or so albums, maybe this would be a good intro to his orchestral work, though I'd argue that any of them are good to start with. This one, however, does have the best sound, with the best intentions from the performers. Masterpiece of prog, classical, of music.

Review by tarkus1980
2 stars The circumstances surrounding this album are such that not really liking it is enough to make me feel a little guilty. This was the last Zappa album before his unfortunate passing, and it largely fulfilled one of his lifelong wishes: to have his "serious" music played by an orchestra that was up to the task and that would take his work seriously. I don't know a lot about Ensemble Modern, but I know that they have a good reputation amongst fans of late 20th-century classical, and they were probably the ideal choice to handle this music. In short, everything about this album exudes Big Symbolic Power (especially with Zappa conducting a small number of tracks), and a proper narrative of Zappa's career and life would consider this the definitive argument in favor of Zappa, the serious composer.

It's too bad, then, that I just don't like it much. I like a lot of classical music, and I even like a few composers who did much of their work in the 20th century. There's just a certain point, though, somewhere out beyond the borders of Bartok (whom I love) and Schoenberg (about whom I'm somewhat ambivalent), where my patience for stretching the boundaries of music wears thin. I remember reading a fascinating article in which the author responded to a claim by a defender of modern classical: the defender's statement was, essentially, that it was hypocritical for people to complain about not knowing what to expect when listening to a new classical piece, when people had no problem going to watch a soccer game without knowing in advance how it would turn out. The author's counter (I'm paraphrasing and rewriting parts of it, as I don't have the original link) was that this was a false comparison: somebody watching a soccer game might not know how the game would finish, but at least they'd know the rules of the game. They would know that the game would be played with one ball, not three: they'd know the goal of the game was to knock the ball into the opposing net: and they would know that the score might end 1-0, or 4-2, or possibly 8-1, but that it would not end with a score of Q to 7 or thereabouts. I simply cannot understand the kind of music that dominates much of this release, and given how relatively easy my assimilation into the world of classical music has been otherwise, I can't help but think that this isn't entirely my fault. Does my lack of ability to figure out what Frank and the Ensemble are doing on much of this album reveal a gaping hole in my artistic sensibilities? It probably does, and yet, I just don't feel a great urge to correct that deficiency, or like I'm missing out on that much. I can generally tolerate much of this as background music, and I do find it funny that "Girl in the Magnesium Dress" has been given a full orchestral treatement (making this an orchestral version of somebody running fingers randomly up and down a synthesizer), but enjoyment is something else entirely.

The album has some stretches that break the tedium in a decent way, though. There are some very nice renditions of various Uncle Meat tracks ("Dog Breath Variations," "Uncle Meat," "Pound for a Brown") that make me wish more of the album had been orchestral versions of existing tracks (and no, I'm not counting the orchestral version of "Be Bop Tango," oy). The album finishes with a GREAT rendition of "G-Spot Tornado," which retains all of the melodic and rhythmic wackiness of the Jazz from Hell version, but naturally with a more "organic" sound. There are also a couple of skits, and they're basically ok, though in a lot of ways they kinda strike me as tired imitations of the sorts of things the original Mothers might have done on stage back in the day. "Food Gathering in Post-Industrial America" features a woman reciting a poem over various orchestral parts, and while part of me wants to laud Zappa for bringing back his social satire side here, I can't help but think that it seems kinda amateurish. "Welcome to the United States" is a little better: it features somebody reading (in a really, um, "affected" vocal manner) excerpts from the questionnaire that needs to be filled out for immigrants to enter the US, while the orchestra plays relevant backing music for the question. So for instance, when a question is asked about drugs, there's psychedelic harp music: when a question is asked about having lived in Nazi Germany, part of a German march is played: and when a question is asked about terrorist activities, "Louie Louie" is played. A lot of the humor seems a little too forced for my tastes, but I like the track more than not.

I understand that a lot of Zappa fans will really enjoy this, and I can understand it. There are a lot of people who are well-versed in late 20th-century classical music, with a good grip on the various developments of the genre and of what separates the good from the bad, and those people may get a kick out of this (then again, maybe this is bad within the genre of avant-garde classical: how would I know?). As is, I'm happy to dig out the few obvious nuggets, and let the rest just kind of exist in its own sphere without my having to deal with it. A major Zappa fan will probably want this, but the rest of us probably won't.

PS: I feel it's important to add a brief addendum to this review, to clear up any confusion. I do not believe that it's a bad thing for classical music to continue to progress and morph into new and strange forms, and I certainly do not begrudge people the right to enjoy classical music as it continues to evolve. I also certainly do not have anything against having to expend some effort to stretch my sensibilities in order to enjoy music that I might not otherwise enjoy. That said, there's only so much work I'm willing to put into enjoying a musical piece before I decide there are better ways for me to spend my relaxation and leisure time. Since the time and work I put into such efforts is pretty substantial (it's not infinite, but I feel like I do pretty danged well), I do not feel much remorse in not enjoying music that I cannot enjoy after these efforts. This is what I mean when I say that music, past a certain point, tries my patience more than I'd like.

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars This album should be everybody's introduction to Frank Zappa's orchestral music. Better executed than the two London Symphony Orchestra album, and with short pieces, easier to digest than "The Perfect Stranger", this album it's an excellent way to discover Zappa's classical side.

It's good to know that in this concert, recorded in the final months of the master's life, he was able to have his music performed by a group of musician who "got it", who understood all of the different aspects of Zappa's music, even (maybe especially) the humor.

The music is a combination of Zappa classics ("Uncle Meat" seems to be quite well represented) and new works. The Ensemble Modern is up to the task of playing whatever Frank threw their way. In fact, the addition of the difficult G-Spot Tornado was the group's idea. And the pull it off marvelously.

The humor is most evident in Welcome To The United States where the music backs up a reading of a perticularly insipid U.S. Customs form. But those who know Zappa's music understand that some of the notes he throws into his compositions are meant to draw a laugh as well.

The sound quality is very good, although at many times the percussion section (important to Zappa's music) is too far in the background.

I suspect Frank was generally pleased with this performance.

Review by Warthur
4 stars An excellent little oasis in the desert of Zappa's post-One Size Fits All career, The Yellow Shark sees Zappa at long, long last finding an ensemble willing and able to play his orchestral pieces in the spirit they were intended. Miles away from the timid and lifeless performances recorded on the likes of 200 Motels or London Symphony Orchestra, here we are treated to an ensemble used to difficult and avant-garde work tackling some of Zappa's most challenging pieces. The inclusion of some spoken-word strangeness - which the performers deliver with gusto - proves that the Ensemble Modern share enough of Zappa's sense of humour to pull off his musical gags with gusto.
Review by AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars This is one of the first Zappa CDs I was able to acquire and was a real disappointment as it did not feature any of his complexity or humour, at least not in the vein of his reputable catalogue during the "You Can't do that on Stage" oeuvre of work. In any case there is still the Zappa classic material here such as Uncle Meat, The Girl in the Magnesium Dress, Ruth Is Sleeping, Dog Breath Variations and Pound for a Brown.

The music is rather subdued and laid back in many portions and Zappa works best when he spirals wildly out of control and veers into zany territory. The orchestral approach is really designed for die hard Zappaholics. It is too classical for its own good and really tedious in places. There are a few good tracks and the wind section is beautiful, but I rarely return to this album, he is capable of so much more. This is really a collectors album.

Review by TCat
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars This is an important album for many reasons. First, it is concert recordings of FZ's serious (or classical) music and it is the best representation of his orchestral music. It is also the last album FZ would release in his lifetime before he succumbed to cancer. He was in a lot of pain and suffering during the time of these concerts, but was still able to actually appear at only 2 of the concerts in Frankfort. At the first of these concerts, which part of this concert is featured on this album, he was able to conduct 4 of the tracks while the remainder was conducted by Peter Rundel, who was the usual conductor for the Ensemble Modern, the only orchestra that seemed to really understand Frank's classical music. It was their idea to do Frank's music as part of this tour that featured 3 other composers.

Frank apparently got along quite well with the musicians and invited them to Los Angeles to do rehearsals even though he was quite sick. Some of these sessions are released on the album "Everything is Healing Nicely" which is a companion album to "Yellow Shark".

FZ calls this project that is recorded here the most fulfilling project he had ever participated in. It must have been so amazing to him to hear his music taken seriously by this orchestra and to be so appreciated by the audience.

The album is completely classical with little bits of FZ's humor showing through from time to time, especially in the tracks that he conducted. During the performance of "Welcome to the United States" the application form for immigrants coming into the country is read in a rather cheery voice with orchestral sounds going on underneath. It is quite an excellent example of Zappa humor. Other than that, it is orchestral and instrumental all the way through. If you don't like classical music, then you might have a hard time with this one. The music that was chosen for this concert consisted of some of Frank's jazz classics which will be recognizable to Zappa's fans and also some musique concrete pieces; 20th century/Modern Classical pieces. The Modern Classical pieces are exactly that, they are written without a lot of discernible melodies, but more in the style of Stravinsky and Varese which are composers that FZ idolized and loved.

The performances are bright and mostly cheery sounding, even with the extent of the dissonance and untraditional styles. At first, the music might sound a lot like soundtrack style music to the listener that is not accustomed to the Modern Classical or Avant Garde style. It does take some ear training to pull out the melodies and structure of the music as it is with this style of music. Remember, that one of the main reasons that Progressive Rock is not accepted so well is because the general public has not trained themselves to listen to it yet. That is also why this style of classical music is hard for a lot of people to listen to also. Like I always say, with understanding comes appreciation. This music does have to be understood and a lot of time is necessary to really "get it" just like it is for Progressive Rock. That's what makes the music challenging. Anyone can listen to top 40 pop and it doesn't require a large investment to get it....but it does tend to get old and stale really fast which is why you can hear a song on the top 40 radio one day and one month later, it is considered outdated. Timeless music, however, lives on generation after generation.

FZ's serious music is definitely legitimate classical avant garde and respected by the classical world. The music is studied in legitimate music schools right along with other composers of this style. This is the music that FZ wanted to make, the music that he wanted the world to hear. He used rock and humor as a vehicle for making his jazz and classical music more accessible.

The last song that FZ conducted, and the last public performance and appearance was the last track "G-Spot Tornado". Imagine how proud he must have felt through his pain and suffering that his music was finally brought to the masses, that it was being respected and performed masterfully and that his life's work had been accepted as he stood there before the audience after this performance as they gave him a 20-minute standing ovation. No wonder he felt that the event was fulfilling and exhilarating. He had lived the dream and seen the realization of that dream, the one thing that so many composers have wished to see in their lifetimes. Some were not able to see that during their lives. FZ did and was deserving of it.

This is an essential album for avant garde and FZ fans. 5 stars.

Review by Neu!mann
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.

Latest members reviews

5 stars this is "THE" farewell record; he recorded it a few months before he died. Being this a postumous record, it shows the gradiosity of a man that crossed almost every boundary from rock, jazz, fusion, prog, punk, avant-garde and modern classic, to contemporary music. Being such a master derives ... (read more)

Report this review (#30011) | Posted by | Thursday, May 27, 2004 | Review Permanlink

5 stars The second best (after Civilisation Phase III) of Frank's Avant Garde musical outings. A must for modern classical enthusiasts, and a great introduction to avant garde music for the rest. There is lots of rock music here too but arranged in a classic idiom which throws an unexpected light on these e ... (read more)

Report this review (#30009) | Posted by | Tuesday, April 20, 2004 | Review Permanlink

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