Zappa, Vol. 1

By Zoogz Rift

Music Connection, 21 July 1983

Zappa, Vol. 1
The London Symphony Orchestra
Barking Pumpkin Records
Produced by Frank Zappa

This album is a tough nut to crack. For almost 20 years, I've found myself in the awkward position of having to defend and justify Frank Zappa's music and philosophies, usually to people who would never understand. In my book, Zappa is a genius, and I have always felt that he deserves to be recognized as a serious composer despite his rock format, which seems to disqualify him as a "serious" composer in the eyes of the "classical" establishment. I have always felt that Zappa was far more interesting, lively, and inventive than even those he admired, like Edgard Varese, John Cage, Ives, Wagner, and Stravinsky, and yet his foothold in history has never been secure. The existence of Zappa, Vol. 1 is an attempt to prove once and for all that FZ deserves his rightful place along side of these other great modern composers.

Zappa fans, however, may have a few problems here. We have learned to love and respect Zappa not merely for the actual musical content of his material, but for his unique presentations of that material as well. He is a master in the use of rock percussion: the electronic altering of musical instruments and sound experimentation are essential ingredients. Unfortunately, the London Symphony Orchestra does not, and cannot, capture these important elements. This album is interesting and sociologically critical, but ultimately destined to'disappoint FZ's true admirers.

The first two cuts, "Sad Jane" and "Pedro's Dowry," are extraordinary. They both move along very smoothly and have a good strong rhythmic sense. This version of "Pedro" is far more intense than the version on Orchestral Favorites. The following piece, "Envelopes," however, fails: it's slow and sluggish, and desperately lacks the punch and emotional pizazz of the rock version on Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch. I have mixed feelings about "Mo 'N' Herb's Vacation," because it appears that FZ is making attempts to cram a lot of different ideas in here, some of which are consistent to his style while others deteriorate into reworked quotes from old Varese pieces. In spite of FZ's career-long interest in having his music performed by a large, talented orchestra, he is most effective when he simply does it himself. You Are What You Is preached a lesson that perhaps Zappa should himself ponder in relation to this album. His best forte is definitely rock.