London Symphony Orchestra

Frank Zappa

Rykodisc, 1983

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


In the latter stages of his career, Frank Zappa had a mission: to prove that he was a composer, not merely a rock musician. He had actually made a valid argument for this view with the release of Orchestral Favorites, even if it had been pretty much overlooked.

Yet in his first "official" effort with a symphony orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Zappa's music comes off as more disjointed than I think he would have liked, and the end result is far weaker than it should have been. (There were, at one time, two different releases of music from these sessions, which have since been combined into one set. This CD release took the best from both releases - and happens to be the version I own.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Admittedly never completely satisfied with the results from these sessions, Zappa's demand for perfection can be heard, even if the mistakes that so infuriated Zappa are hard to hear by the common listener. The one true masterpiece on this disc, "Bogus Pomp," revisits the version heard on Orchestral Favorites and gives it an additional infusion of energy and life - so much so that one wishes that this had been on 200 Motels, where the bulk of the material is culled from. It is in this performance, conducted by Kent Nagano, that Zappa's music feels most at home.

If only the remainder of the material had even half of that strength. The three movements of "Mo & Herb's Vacation" are a cacophonous mess, continuing the musical free-association that Zappa had perfected with his rock bands. The problem is that classical instrumentation does not adapt as well, and while this may be more in the vein of Zappa's true musical idols like Varese, it's hell on the listener as they try to make some sense out of the orchestral mass that hits them in the face. "Sad Jane" is a bit of an improvement, but doesn't feel like the strongest way to open up the disc and to establish the foundation of Zappa as a composer.

This isn't to say that Zappa's work didn't belong in a symphonic setting - a good smattering of his early work had an orchestral feel, even going back as far as Lumpy Gravy and Uncle Meat. Perhaps it was the selections that did London Symphony Orchestra in; I'd have loved to have heard a track like "Sofa No. 1" performed in an orchestral setting, and think it would have been a natural fit. Alas, this isn't to be.

Zappa's fascination with the symphonic world was by no means complete - yet another disc, this one with Pierre Boulez holding the baton, was just on the horizon - but there are better examples on the market than London Symphony Orchestra that show Zappa's strengths as a composer. Sadly, this one is just not it.

2005 Christopher Thelen and "The Daily Vault." All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of the Zappa Family Trust / record label, and is used for informational purposes only.

Rating: C

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© 2005 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rykodisc, and is used for informational purposes only.