Frank Zappa: Studio Tan

By Cole Springer

Trouser Press, December 1978

Studio Tan

DiscReet DSK 2291

Over a year ago, Frank Zappq delivered four LPs to Warner Brothers Records to fulfill his contractual obligation to them. As a result of'not being paid for these albums, Zappa is currently suing Warners. Meanwhile, they are releasing the albums (Zappa in New York was the first), which explains why Studio Tan has just been released in an eye-catching jacket which bears the titles of the selections and absolutely no other pertinent information. Zappa is not about to provide Warner's with the time of day, let alone personnel lists and other recording date details. Still, anyone with two ears and a brain in between can ascertain that a symphony orchestra was involved in the sessions, as were such Zappa veterans as George Duke and Ruth Underwood.

Studio Tan showcases the slightly more serious side of Zappa's considerable compositional talents. Side one is a 20-minute piece with mirration, dialogue and occasional singing. The story, about a white-collar "gregarious nocturnal wildswine" named "Gregory Peccary," exists primarily to punctuate the wildly shifting moods (from neoclassical to swing jazz to beyond) of the piece, which is impeccably scored and performed.

Side two opens with a short ditty in the Only Money โ€“ Uncle Meat mold, "Let Me Take You to the Beach, " complete with female ensemble vocals (or is it just Zappa overdubed and sped up?), the only "song" on the album. This is followed by "Revised Music for Guitar and Low-Budget Orchestra, " a new version of a work originally performed by Jean-Luc Ponty on King Kong, his early-'70s LP of Zappa compositions. Then, it was a lengthy orchestral suite; here it is considerably shorter, but no less fascinating as it glides back and forth from jazz to classical orchestration with a seeming effortlessness on the part of Zappa and his musicians.

 "Redunzl," the final track, is also an instrumental piece, although this one has more of a blues-rock structure. Zappa tears off one of his trebly, blitzed-out guitar solos, and there is a hot piano statement by George Duke near the end. Words can only hint at the thoughtful, intricate qualities of this latest helping of Frank Zappa brilliance. This is music which rewards the serious listener.

โ€“ Cole Springer