Late in his life, Frank Zappa hooked up with the small German avant-garde orchestra the Ensemble Modern for what are said to have been the most enjoyable encounters with an orchestra he had in his career. The combination resulted in the last album Zappa released during his life, The Yellow Shark. This album, issued seven years later by the Zappa Family Trust, chronicles some more of the sessions. "These are recordings from Frank Zappa's rehearsals with the Ensemble Modern in preparation for The Yellow Shark, writes Todd Yvega, who also served as a recordist on the project. In some cases, such as "Whitey (Prototype)," an early version of "Get Whitey," the tracks are actual run-throughs of material that would turn up on The Yellow Shark. Others find Zappa conducting the orchestra through improvisations. With his usual sense of humor, and with sympathetic classical musicians for once, he combines experimental music with other found sounds, including recitations by pianist Hermann Kretzschmar, who begins by reading the information from his library card and later in the album reads letters to the editor from Piercing Fans International Quarterly ("Keep up the great work. I don't know what to pierce next.") The juxtapositions of spoken word and orchestral sounds is reminiscent of Lumpy Gravy, while Kretzschmar's German accent recalls Theodore Bikel in 200 Motels. But the unusual percussion effects bespeak the continuing influence on Zappa of his early mentor Edgard Varèse, bringing these late recordings full circle to some of his first compositions.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann