What compositions here? Cannot understand the unavailability here with this masterpiece! Considering I have about a hundred of franks stuff' this is the only one I've ever purchased second hand! & it has to be the best ? Made my day because of the condition ex '...phil (shanis partner)
"Ged-ouda-here" I hear you say, but by certain warped and bendy metrics quite probably so. It's the night after full moon and my palms are still a bit furry. After a day of Brahms piano quartets I have a sudden, late night yen for something completely batty, off the wall, and hopefully a little disturbing. Here we go. Civilisation Phaze III. Uncle Frank's final masterpiece that he just managed to finish in time before God or the CIA gave him prostate cancer, at a spitefully premature age, for being such a bad American. I picked up my copy a couple of years ago, when I was collecting his complete corpus and acquiring the stuff faster than I could do it justice with my ears. I remember spinning it a couple of times and finding it `very interesting', but suddenly tonight's the night for giving it serious attention, and boy, what a revelatory album. All of Frank's more challenging and esoteric threads of experimentation suddenly coalesce in this work, granting him the crowning consummation of all his grand musical adventures. And he did it. He really did it. He finally managed to do what generations of frustrated, wannabe, experimental, cutting edge and largely irrelevant composers have been failing to do, ever since Schoenberg sent young Berg and Webern home with their dodecaphonic homework assignments. He wrote a genuinely interesting and warmly engaging work of completely atonal music.
By this time the synclavier has finally matured and evolved into a seriously powerful musical instrument, and his mastery over it has reached a stage where the primitive fumblings of Jazz from Hell,Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention, etc. have been transcended. He now has the tools and skills to generate an epic two hour tapestry that sounds like, and that could, and hopefully one day will, be realised by a top class symphony orchestra.
In compositional terms the often clownish, sometimes gauche orchestral experiments he was trying to pull off with The Perfect Stranger: Boulez Conducts Zappa,London Symphony Orchestra Vol.1 & 2 and The Yellow Shark, suddenly burst through to an entirely unexpected clarity, symmetry and precision of purpose. He arrives at a totally new form of music that is elegant, coherent and imbued with a clear and compelling logic, and yet is entirely atonal. It is the final crystallisation and a vindication of his compositional methods based on the rhythms and articulations of human speech, as explained in some of his writings.
The musical parts are interspersed with episodes in which we become further acquainted with the pleasantly demented cast of characters who live inside the piano, to whom we were first introduced 30 years before on Lumpy Gravy. These people don't remember how they got there, but they do know they have been there `since it got dark'. Flippant and puerile, yet oddly sinister, Dali's Paranoiac Critical Method meets Cabaret Voltaire, by way of the Marx Brothers in these piquantly absurdist vignettes.
Back in the 70's we humans lobbed a couple of probes all the way out of the solar system (Voyager, remember?). On board it was loaded up with various odds and ends that were supposed to be representative of our curious species, and which it was hoped would tell any lucky folks who found it a bit about the nice people who sent them on their way. I think someone needs to go and get those probes back, because one of the most exquisitely quintessential human artefacts didn't get made in time to make it aboard the first time around. Namely, Uncle Frank's Civilisation Phaze III. If any one man should have been entrusted with the delicate task of explaining our antics to a rational, alien mind it should have been Frank. We come in peace, if slightly crazy
Frank Zappa worked hard. He was a one-off. A genius. A luminary. Civilization Phaze III is the pinnacle of his life's work, and yet, (such was the indefatigable nature of this godly pioneer), this work sounds like a promising new avenue. Of course, it harks back to Lumpy Gravy, (is this how he wanted Lumpy Gravy to be but didn't have the technology for in the 60's?). It is similar in structure, but is informed by a lifetime of studious listening and latterly a self-imposed isolation as he discovered the synclavier and left 'musicians' behind. There are no guitar solos. This is not rock. This is a touching milestone in Frank's life as a serious composer. 'Beat the Reaper' and 'Waffenspiel' put an acceptable full stop on Civilization Phaze III, and for me, on Franks life and creative output. Followers of the conceptual continuity thing will no doubt have already discovered that the beautiful 'Amnerika' has it's roots in the background of 'Thing Fish'. Go and scour the world for this rare jewel.
Many people band the word "genius" about many bands. But the truth is they are just very good. The sheer depth and complexity of the content on this CD is beyond most and as a result it's not unfair to label this work along side that of Mozart, Stravinski or Stockhausen. The track Anmerika is the pop song of the album - still managing to use time signatures that trip and dance over each other in what must be a score that only a computer could read - but at the same times sounds so naturaly playful it's melody will stick in your head for a long time.
If aliens made music - it would probably sound something like this.
This is a two CD set, but it contains one CD's worth of music. The rest is apparently pointless chat by associates of Zappa edited into bits. The same thing occurs in some early Zappa albums, e.g. Lumpy Gravy, where the music is interspersed with twaddle. I have always wondered what he saw in this sort of meaningless and irritating drivel. Maybe I'm missing something, and others may enlighten me but even when it is amusing, which is by no means always, it becomes very tiring, even at the first listen.
That said, the music is really good for the most part. Among the piffle (notice I am trying to vary my adjectives to describe balderdash!) there are some wonderful, creative musical pieces that deserve wide recognition. You will not find the likes of Dinah Mo here, more like Times Beach II from Yellow Shark. Several of the tracks, for example Xmas Values, and Amnerika (title perhaps inspired by Varese) are short and beautiful, and there is the eighteen-minute N-Lite, which is a profound piece that in my book earns a place among the best of modern music.
In all, the music is sufficiently brilliant to make this album a favourite, but I intend to find time to copy it and make a new CD of just the music so I'll be able to listen to it without wincing. Since Frank is rightly becoming recognised as a force in modern music, perhaps it's time for the Zappa family to edit out the guff from a lot of previous work, and make it available as music.
This double-CD set is the summation of everything Frank was working towards on the Synclavier. Originally entitled Lumpy Gravy Phase III, this work seamlessly intertwines the intricate compositions realised on the Synclavier with dialogue culled from the Lumpy Gravy sessions, improvisations by the Ensemble Modern, and more dialogue (this time by Moon, Michael Rapaport, Todd Yvega and various members of the Ensemble Modern). The entire work is assembled as an unfolding drama about the end of the world, with civilisation seeking refuge within the confines of a giant piano, whilst the outside world is being over-run by pigs and ponies. Musically, we have pieces that combine complex, shifting meters, and unusual sonorities in a style reminiscent of Boulez, Ligeti, Berio, or Nono, but at the same time, remaining distinctly Zappa. The ultimate highlight of the set is N-Lite, the synclavier masterpiece that Frank spent nearly a decade writing and preparing. Here, you will find elements that combine Varese and Nancarrow together with unique moments of sheer brilliance. Outstanding. Buy it. Now!