Frank Zappa: 200 Motels - The Suites

Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra / Esa-Pekka Salonen

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Frank Zappa: 200 Motels - The Suites Review

by James Manheim

This Grammy-nominated release, issued in 2016, reproduces a 2013 performance from the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, with the Los Angeles Master Chorale. The performance is of a unique type. You couldn't call it a classical orchestra version of a rock work, for the original film soundtrack of Frank Zappa's 1971 film 200 Motels also contained a substantial orchestral component, performed originally by no less than the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The film was intended as a kind of rock opera about a touring band (that's the title's reference). Filming was abandoned partway through, and the music was issued as an album that made some sense of a rather random story. The story develops Zappa's own ambitions as a classical composer in the vein of Edgard Varèse, but also twits them, and the overall tone is satirical; Zappa (played here by Jeff Taylor) is himself a character in the story. What you have here is designated a set of suites; it might equally be regarded as an edition of an inchoate work, and as such it succeeds. The balance between rock and orchestral pieces is tilted toward the latter, but the unpredictable mix of the original is still present. You could sample Zappa's large-scale experiment with modern classical idioms, "The Pleated Gazelle," which manages the trick of having fun with its source material while still holding it in great respect. Indeed, Salonen has expressed his admiration for Zappa precisely because of the latter's irreverence, and he proves a sympathetic interpreter throughout. There isn't a boring moment in the whole score, and the live sound is more than adequate. Later Zappa would don more formal clothing in his approach to contemporary orchestral music, but it may be that this recording best captures the spirit in which he approached it. Highly recommended.

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