Ensemble Modern

Greggery Peccary and Other Persuasions: The Ensemble Modern Plays Frank Zappa

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The fabulous Ensemble Modern present another all-Zappa program following up the Yellow Shark project from about a decade earlier. The main difference between the albums is that Zappa died in 1993, so there are no new pieces written specifically for the Ensemble and Frank isn't conducting. Also, with the exception of an exercise entitled "What Will Rumi Do?" (which conceptually ties back to Ruth Underwood in "Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?"), all the pieces should be known to Zappa fans, who are a pretty hardcore lot. For many listeners, that may make for a more enjoyable program, but it's not like this is the Mantovani Orchestra performing the "Hits of Frank Zappa." The track selection is excellent, although it is a bit off the beaten Zappa track. There are several compositions that have only appeared as Synclavier pieces, from the albums Jazz From Hell and Civilization Phase III, and "Revised Music for Low Budget Orchestra" and "Greggery Peccary" are probably not very high on the average FZ fan's hit parade. That being said, these are great, if sometimes challenging compositions, and the Ensemble Modern clearly rise to the task. The Jazz From Hell tracks ("Night School" and "Beltway Bandits") are perhaps the most transformed, mostly due to the fact that the early Synclavier sounds were more synthesized and mechanical than the sounds later used on Civilization Phase III. The CPIII tracks actually become more interesting as compositions, divorced from their original context among a great deal of sometimes silly spoken material. Here, they are just wickedly polyrhythmic modern compositions that stand quite well as individual pieces. In particular, the arrangement for "A Pig With Wings" is stunning, scored for two guitars and two keyboard/samplers that sound like they have a hammered dulcimer patch at times. "Revised Music for Low Budget Orchestra" gets a fantastic reading, and it's simply thrilling to hear the passage with the guitar solo (replaced here by viola) doubled by brass and percussion. That anyone would actually undertake a live performance of "Greggery Peccary" is a bit of a surprise, and again, the Ensemble Modern demonstrate their incredible talent. Incorporating all the known orchestral devices, they also use samplers and vocalists Omar Ebrahim and David Moss, who really "put the eyebrows" on their performances (who'da thunk an opera guy could perform like Ebrahim?). Anyone familiar with David Moss' bizarre, cartoonish vocalizing over the years will realize what an inspired choice he was. As an added bonus, there's a wonderful arrangement of the old favorite "Peaches en Regalia," and a hidden track that originates from 200 Motels (no need to completely spoil the surprise). Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions is another fantastic recording from the Ensemble Modern, and since there aren't a whole lot of new performances coming out of the Zappa vault, this is a nice treat for those who still want to hear more from the great Frank Zappa. Excellent.

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