Zappa: The Perfect Stranger

By Benedict Sarnaker

Hi-Fi News & Record Review, February 1985

ZAPPA: The Perfect Stranger* □ Naval Aviation Art?* The Girl in the Magnesium Dress Outside now, again Love Story Dupree's Paradise* Jonestown
Ens InterContemporain*/Barking Pumpkin Digital Gratification Consort/Boulez
EMI EL 2701531 digital dmm ( EL 2701534)

It might come as a surprise, be it pleasant or not, to collide with a record enblazoned Boulez Conducts Zappa. Pierre Boulez ( in his capacity as conductor/director of IRCAM) commissioned The Perfect Stranger for the splendid Ensemble InterContemporain. In a style which Zappa describes – not quite legitimately – as 'preposterously non-modern', this dance piece sketches the flirtations of a door-to-door salesman. The music makes detailed programmatic references, but can stand on its own (purely musical) feet – especially when played and recorded so well as here. The other six dances are in the same 'descriptive' vein without the lush richness of the large musical ensemble. Most of their material is studio created, using the resources of popular and electronic music. The quality of composition and recording remains highly imaginative and entertaining, whether in the extremely brief (!) Love Story 'featuring an elderly Republican couple attempting sex while breakdancing' or the brashy bright electronics of The Girl in the Magnesium Dress – which kills the men who dance with her.

Whilst the Boulez-Zappa combination is not the most obvious of musical connections, it is an extremely rewarding one in that it brings to the performance a degree of complex musical training not generally found in this kind of music. In return it generates a piece whose length, coherence and variety are remarkably fine. Combined with recording and pressing of first-class care, it merits [A*:1*] (= excellent recording, excellent performance)