Customer Review

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Something to move the air molecules around your living room, 29 Jan 2004
This review is from: London Symphony Orchestra Vol. I And Ii (Audio CD)
I was pleasantly surprised by this album - Zappa wasn't happy with some of the LSO's playing and makes no secret of it in the liner notes for Vol. 2. I thought this would mean a dreary couple of hours worth of avant-garde music with mistakes and bum notes all over the place. Maybe I know nothing about music, but these performances sound fine to me. FZ had to do a few edits here and there - over 50 on 'Strictly Genteel', taking an 11 minute performance down to 7, and he seems to have done a good job - the music sounds beautiful to these ears.
'Bob in Dacron' is first: a piece in two movements, it depicts the titular character getting dressed and going out to get smashed and go on the pull. The music (and liner notes, to be fair) lets us know Zappa's low opinion of such a character, with churning harmonies and electronic "laughboxes" in the mix.
'Sad Jane' is next: a companion piece to the above, it is more reflective and pastoral - parts of it could be Debussy.
After that we have the 28 minute 'Mo 'n Herb's Vacation' which is a combination of a Clarinet solo for David Ocker and a drum solo for Chad Wackerman. The main theme, of which the piece consists of variations, derives from a line in Zappa's 'Wet T-shirt Nite' from Joe's Garage - you figure out which one; needless to say, it's quite surprising to be reminded of mammalian protruberances in a "classical" album such as this.
The second disc consists of new arrangements of older Zappa tunes, and a lot of fans find this disc easier to digest. 'Envelopes', previously glimpsed on the Ship arriving too late to save a Drowning Witch album, is given a lush, slightly slower treatment than before. 'Pedro's Dowry', from Lather, is extended to include a surprising "disco" section, which features excellent rhythm work from Chad Wackerman - his contributions throughout the album are exemplary, and they help to make the album more accessible for rock fans. The 24 minute 'Bogus Pomp' is next, expanded from its Orchestral Favorites version. The orchestral forces are larger in this version too, giving extra resonance to its fanfares.
The final tune is a version of 'Strictly Genteel' which Zappa was very unhappy with, as noted above. The perfomance was so mutilated by editing necessary to conceal the mistakes of an allegedly drunk brass section that it actually fades out - a very bad sign on a classical recording. I seem to remember the Orchestral Favorites version fades out too, but that one retains more of its climaxes than this one does. A slightly disappointing end to the album, then, but overall it's well worthwhile, for Zappa's radical yet involving compositions, and the playing that these musicians actually managed to get right. Considering their budget, time frame, and the complexity of the compositions (which came as a total surpriseto the orchestra), the players should be applauded for their efforts. For Zappa fans, the presence of Chad Wackerman and Ed Mann is an added bonus.
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