The Resentment Listener

Posted: May 12, 2011 in concert report, zappa

In jazz to give homage to the music of someone else means to let the original compositions pass through the filter of a personal language, in terms of sound, arrangements and performance style. Sometimes with some reference to the spirit of the original composer.

From my point of view it would be wrong to expect sound, arrangements and performance style similar to the original ones. If the original composer is Frank Zappa, I do not expect the jazz project in question being zappish, nor zappaesque, even less zappoid, to use three categories described by Simon Prentis (“Monkish Meditations”, The Rondo Hatton Report, March 2010, www.rhreport.net). If I got them right, a performance in the spirit of Frank would be zappish. You have a zappaesque effect instead, if some FZ superficial elements (i.e. odd time signatures, satire, poodles, etc) have been used but the result is not in the spirit. Finally, a zappoid rendition comes into sight when the performers insists on eccentricity, sex obsessions and emphasizes rock clichés (or all the typical cheap Zappa stereotypes usually delivered by rock press). Where does the Frank Zappa spirit lie, that is a question to be discussed in deep, trying to put any resentment aside.

In most cases something different should happen if an orchestra plays written music. The performers are expected to try to do their best to interpret the original according to the spirit of the composer. They may have their own sound, their own style in playing but they should adhere to what is written. In the case of Zappa I do expect such an orchestra to be zappish.

Two performances of FZ music in the afore mentioned realms took place in Rome in the first months of 2011:

February 4
Parco della Musica Contemporanea Ensemble (PMCE)
Johnathan Stockhammer (Director)
Get Ready to Zappa

March 25-26
Stefano Bollani
Sheik Yer Zappa

Unexpectedly enough, I enjoyed much more the jazz performance than the orchestral one.

When I first read about the orchestral concert I instantly decided to go mainly because of the Director involved: Johnathan Stockhammer is between the most authoritative conductors in the field of contemporary music, and has recorded a Zappa album with the Ensemble Modern (Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions). I also read about some “unreleased music”, I was skeptical but also interested. Then I read about the participation of Gail Zappa who have authorized the performance, I was interested too.

On the other hand, Stefano Bollani, the leader of the Sheik Yer Zappa project is a great piano player, probably one of the most gifted contemporary Italian ones. However his playing, though technically near to perfect, sounds often cold to me. Also, he has a sense of humour that I have not always appreciated. During his live performances he quite often has a sort of an anchorman audience participation time during which he asks to challenge him or vice-versa. As far as Zappa, in 2003 he included “Let’s Move to Cleveland” in his Småt Småt piano solo album, a precise rendition near to the original ‘84 zavodish style. And now that I am thinking to Allan Zavod, Bollani knows exactly how to perform a volcano solo (and he seems to enjoy them very much) as well as he knows how to perform in a lot of different styles (consciously being rarely –ish and more often –esque, or –oid). In short I did not follow every Bollani move, though I am well aware of his mastery.

Stefano Bollani - Rome, March 25, 2011

That said, and considering that it would have been the first orchestral concert of Zappa music in Rome ever, I was longing for Get Ready to Zappa and I reacted coldly at the Sheik Yer Zappa news.

However the more the fourth of February approached, the more I feared a flop. In fact in the previous weeks I tried to find information about the project, but quite nothing surfaced. Until a few days before I did not even know the music I would have eventually heard, then I tried www.zappa.com and in the performance section I found the following:

February 04, 2011: Rome, ITALY – Contemporanea

“Dog/Meat”
“The Dangerous Kitchen
“Revised Music for Low Budget Orchestra”
“Lumpy Gravy”
“Aerobics in Bondage”
“Moggio”
“The Black Page”
“Outside Now Again”
“Put A Motor in Yourself”
“Lumpy Gravy”
“The Adventures of Greggery Peccary”

Conductor: Jonathan Stockhammer and the Director Oscar Pizzo
Venue: Auditorium Parco della Musica in Sinopoli Hall

Nothing more from ZFT. I said to myself Lumpy Gravy live in 2011 and Gail is silent? Her favourite piece of music, executed for the first time in 44 years and nobody screams? ZFT has also a sort of press agency (www.shorefire.com/clients/zappa/) and nothing from there also.

Get Ready to Zappa leaflet (detail)

Then February the fourth arrived and from the concert program I got some more information. “Lumpy Gravy 1” would have included “Sink Trap”, “Gum Joy (oh no)”, “Up and Down”, while “Lumpy Gravy 2”, “Foamy Soaky”, “Let’s Eat Out”, “Teen-Age Grand Finale”; i.e. the Lumpy Gravy ‘67 Capitol Records titles minus “IV Local Butcher”, “V Gypsy Airs”, “VI Hunchy Punchy” (all of them issued in 2009 in The Lumpy Money Project/Object). The two  Lumpy Gravy  suites, “Aerobics in Bondage” (previously known only as the synclavier piece included in Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers of Prevention, 1985) and “Outside now Again” (previously known only as the synclavier piece included in The Perfect Stranger, 1984) have been world première. Also, the program lists all the orchestra members, all of them highly qualified professionals, some in the jazz camp, some in the contemporary music field (I know some of them and I later checked all the others). Hubert Steiner is a special case, he is also the lead guitar player and arranger of the Ensemble Ascolta, who owns one of the most interesting ZFT authorized projects ever, a project that has already given a chance to listen to two unreleased synclavier compositions (“Samba Funk, Part II” and “Ouverture to Uncle Sam, Part I” both performed live in Berlin on July 14, 2007). Also, Ascolta reports that a Zappa album with unreleased music is under consideration (see www.ascolta.de).

However, what I feared turned out to be true: a one-shot deal event, to appear and then shortly disappear (no more information nor much real reviews later on). And the appearance has been ruined by frequent mistakes, missed starts and losses of cohesion. In general, I had the feeling it was the typical sense of confusion of an under-rehearsed performance. A few incidents I remember: the almost unrecognizable (rhetorical resentful exaggeration here) first minute of “Dog Breath”, the first minute of “Moggio” (I think almost 10 musicians did not start), a confused “G-Spot Tornado”. It was sad and incomprehensible.

Later on I had some second hand news (twice from two different sources) about rehearsals time and it seems that PMCE have had 5 days. It is enough to watch to AAAFNRAA. Yellow Shark Rehearsals to understand why 5 days is a very short time. Anyway, at the end of the concert, very well welcomed by the audience (here a different reasoning should start concerning Zappa as a cultural icon), Gail made his way through the steno pool, I mean the stage, and made her speech. She looked touched, and I am sure she was. She delivered nice words to the world, the audience, the music. But I remained, and still remain, astonished. I really did not understand her approach to this project (project?), the emotional side of my thoughts said to me she is sincere, but the rational side reports an empty void of no idea. However, I said to myself: I may not understand her, maybe I could understand the musicians, so a few days later I wrote them (to the Director management, Steiner and other two) reporting my sad feelings and asking a great “how can you managed to participate to a project like this?”. And the clearest between all the possible answers was NO ANSWER!

Then after the PMCE concert, while still looking for more information about Get Ready to Zappa (quite a paradox since they were not ready), some information about Sheik Yer Zappa started to circulate. The band is an international jazz super group: Josh Roseman (trombone), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), Larry Grenadier (bass) and Jim Black (drums). I was very happy about that because Sun Rooms by Jason Adasiewicz is one of my favourite 2010 albums, and because I heard a lot about Jim Black and I was interested to hear him live. So I decided to go and stopped to look for more information. I just was happy to go to a jazz concert played by great quite young musicians. And they eventually sounded like this, not zappish, nor zappaesque, neither zappoid, I was wrong to be a bit worried that it would have turned out to be a zappoid experience. They all delivered a great interplay in the improvised sections, even though something may be adjusted concerning written parts. For instance I have the feeling that the trombone player missed some lines at the beginning of the “Uncle Meat Variations”, but it could be part of their approach, they let the improvisation begins at any moment. After the concert I read an interview to Bollani, he said that it is the first time they play together and he did not want to rehearse that much because he wanted to let music develop as free as possible. In this case not to have long rehearsals was part of the plan, in the other case was the consequence of not giving enough resources to the project.

Jason Adasiewicz and Jim Black (background) - Rome, March 25, 2011

Back to Sheik Yer Zappa, they have a great sound, especially thanks to the vibes and to Adasiewicz who is fantastic. Black, Roseman, and Grenadier give great contributions, particularly I did enjoy the powerful drumming. Finally I must say that I was surprised by the Bollani performance, I feared a lot of zappoid inserts, but almost nothing like this happened. Also, he was a peer between the others, if not when he have been asking to come back to the theme, you would not say he was the leader. He made an appropriate choice in terms of sound to add an electric piano to the set, and not to use any guitar (in an interview he stated that he did not want to give any clue of a reference to Zappa as a guitarist). Finally, here is the setlist:

“Theme From Lumpy Gravy”
“Blessed Relief”
“Cosmik Debris”
“Bobby Brown” (Bollani on lead vocals)
“Bollani Original 1”
“Eat that Question”
“Let’s Move To Cleveland”
“Bollani Original 2”
“Peaches en Regalia” (piano & electric piano solo)
“Uncle Meat Variations”
“Theme From Lumpy Gravy” (reprise)

I was not particularly fond of “Bobby Brown” (nothing more than a bizarre jazz ballad with a zappesque use of toy instruments) and of “Peaches” (mainly performed as a zavodish volcano solo, the Bollani way). However I must say that their inclusion in the program answers with a “yes” to the YCDTOSA theoretical question 7: “Does the inclusion of this song help the stylistic flow of the album sequence by providing contrast or relief?”. Zappish!

Eventually my resentful listener self was satisfied, a good jazz performance and a band with a great sound. As far as the arrangements, I understand they want to stay free but he – the resentful – would have enjoyed more written parts, not necessarily FZ literal.

On the other hand, he still remains frustrated about the orchestral performance and hopes for a next, bold, new, breed, breeding Lumpy Gravy live.

Francesco Gentile (May 2011)

.

Notes:

Thanks to Luca Fiaccavento who has kindly given permission to include here his photographs of the March 25 Sheik Yer Zappa concert (go to his Flickr page for more, www.flickr.com/people/lucafiaccavento).

Thanks to Zappateers (www.zappateers.com) who let the Sheik Yer Zappa March 23 concert (Poggibonsi – Siena) and the Ascolta plays Zappa concert live in Berlin July 14, 2007 circulate.

Also, through YouTube some other Ascolta plays Zappa and Sheik Yer Zappa stuff is available.

On the other hand, not much signs of life of Get Ready to Zappa, the only bit available through YouTube is the Gail Speech (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoZGd2GcUlY, May 2011)

PMCE
Paolo Fratini: flute
Fabio Bagnoli: oboe
Paolo Ravaglia: clarinet
Luca Cipriano: bass clarinet
Maurizio Giammarco: saxophones
Marco Dionette: bassoon
Tommaso Santangelo: horn
Andrea Di Mario: trumpet
Luca Giustozzi: trombone
Pierluigi Ausili: tuba
Luca Nostro: guitar
Hubert Steiner: guitar
Rosario Moschitta: mandolin
Filippo Fattorini: violin
Paolo Sasso: violin
Alessio Toro: viola
Marco Algenti: cello
Massimo Ceccarelli: double bass
Lucio Perotti: piano
Giuseppe Burgarella: piano
Antonio Caggiano: percussion
Flavio Tanzi: percussion
Giuseppe Marino: drums, percussion

Der Ressentiment-hörer
Loyalty to the work, which they [the resentment listeners] set against the bourgeois ideal of musical showmanship, becomes an end in itself, not so much a matter of adequately presenting and experiencing the meaning of works as of guarding zealously against any minute deviation from what – impeachably enough – they take for the performing practice of past ages.

Theodor W. Adorno
Introduction to the Sociology of Music
(Einleitung in die Musiksoziologie, 1962)
Translated from the German by E. B. Ashton
New York: Seabury Press (A Continuum Book), 1976

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Comments
  1. […] a great Zappa performance. I will stop here on this matter, is the same old Italian story (see also Get Ready to Zappa), maybe less evident for this night because of the quality of the musicians and of the […]

  2. […] why I have stolen the Adorno term (changing its meaning a little bit) at first to write a concert report, then to name a blog or whatever this space will […]

  3. […] is particularly good news, if compared to a 2011 Rome concert, a project far below any expectation that involved both Stockhammer and Steiner, and that cause me […]

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