Francesco Zappa

Frank Zappa

Rykodisc, 1984

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


In one sense, seeing Frank Zappa put out a classical disc featuring works from an 18th Century Italian composer who shared a common name shouldn't be that big of a surprise. After all, this came at the tail end of a period in Zappa's career that found him doing the most experimentation with classical music than any other time. In another sense, anyone picking up a Zappa album expecting to hear his raunch-laden rock would be in for a major surprise with this disc.

Another disc in which Zappa was given the opportunity to experiment with the Synclavier, this disc proves to be surprisingly entertaining, if not a little tedious near the end. Like many of Zappa's rock-oriented works, the lack of variety in style tends to be the Achilles' heel for this disc, though it is hardly a death blow.

It's interesting to me, listening to this disc in 2005, how much I hear an influence it seemed to have on a series like "Baby Einstein," in which classical music is synthesized for little ears. (This disc was compared to Wendy Carlos's my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Switched-On Bach by All-Music Guide - I disagree only in that this is less bombastic.) This doesn't mean that the music of one Francesco Zappa is dumbed down for the listening audience. If anything, Frank Zappa lovingly presents selections from a composer who would otherwise have been possibly lost forever to the annals of time. I can't say that this music is outstanding in terms of other composers of the Baroque period, but it does hold up well on its own.

Two unique pieces are presented on Francesco Zappa, "Opus I" and "Opus IV," each one divided into its unique movements that - not unlike a modern-day composer's albums - seemed to naturally segue into one another. While I can't say that the Synclavier necessarily does justice to the instrumentation of the original pieces - such a comparison would only be possible if these pieces were fully orchestrated - it does provide a light-hearted peppiness to the music, and that is not meant as a slight.

Yet as intriguing as this collection is, especially to the novice classical music fan such as myself, Francesco Zappa simply runs out of gas near the end. This, regrettably, has been a problem for any Zappa disc that has specifically focused on one style of music, such as Cruising With Ruben & The Jets. I don't know what could have been done to improve on this, nor do I even think that anything should have been added or subtracted to this disc. In fact, even though my interest started to fade at the end, making any sort of change to the content would almost be akin to tampering with history. (To the best of my knowledge, this is the only recorded example of Zappa the composer's work.)

Francesco Zappa is a strange yet intriguingly pleasant addition to Zappa's vast discography, even if most people didn't get the point back in 1984 - or, for that matter, today. I'm willing to bet that such a disc would fit well into any classical music fan's collection, and could even shock some of the stuffed-shirts in the classical music scene. For all of the sophomoric humor Zappa was involved in, this is a very mature effort.

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: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 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.