The Yellow Shark, An Appreciation. Merry Zappadan.
This is of course not Zappadan Eve (which actually falls on Dec. 20, not Dec. 3, my friends, I don’t know why, but that’s what Mark H has decreed) or even The Grand Wazoo Birthday, so we are not wrapping on Zappadan yet. I have it in my head that I might still want to write something about Don Sugarcane Harris maybe, though I might save that for Zappadan 2012. Haven’t decided yet. Maybe I’ll just post some videos of St. Alphonso’s Pancake Breakfast. I’m not sure how I’ll close out this auspicious holiday.
But I do need to close this portion of the project somehow. So let’s talk about what The Yellow Shark is all about.
I have enjoyed listening to The Yellow Shark, immensely. I have spent many wee hours with headphones on, trying to find nuances and interesting things to discuss here. And I can tell you that I personally think The Yellow Shark is comprised of a few crucial pieces of story.
First and foremost, The Yellow Shark is about the musicians. This Ensemble Modern was a dedicated, tenacious group that seemed to care about nothing but the music, period. Zappa himself didn’t think, for example, that “G-Spot Tornado” could ever be played by humans. It was the players who said screw that, Frank, we’re playing it, and they did, and they kicked its ass. This group was a class act like none you’ve ever seen, and I’d like to recognize that here. One way to accomplish that is to point them out by name. It’s the least I can do. As from the liner notes of The Yellow Shark, the players were:
Peter Rundel (Conductor, Violin), Dietmar Wiesner (Flute), Catherine Milliken (Oboe, English Horn, Didgeridoo), Roland Diry (Clarinet), Wolfgang Stryi (Bass Clarinet, Contrabass Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone), Veit Scholz (Basoon, Contrabasson), Franck Ollu (Horn), Stefan Dohr (Horn), William Formann (Trumpet, Flügelhorn, Piccolo Trumpet, Cornet), Michael Gross (Trumpet, Flügelhorn, Piccolo Trumpet, Cornet), Uwe Dirksen (Trombone, Soprano Trombone), Michael Svoboda (Trombone, Euphonium, Didgeridoo, Alphorn), Daryl Smith (Tuba), Hermann Kretzschmar (Piano, Harpsichord, Celeste, Dramatic Reading), Ueli Wiget (Piano, Harphsichord, Celeste, Harp), Rainer Romer (Percussion), Rumi Ogawa-Helferich (Percussion, Cymbalom), Andreas Böttger (Percussion), Detlef Tewes (Mandolin), Jürgen Ruck (Guitar, Banjo), Ellen Wegner (Harp), Mathias Tacke (Violin), Claudia Sack (Violin), Hillary Strut (Viola, Dramatic Reading), Friedemann Dähn (Violincello), Thomas Fichter (Contrabass, Electrocontrabass).
It is clear from this recording that the Ensemble Modern is a dedicated, talented, and serious group of musicians. As Gail Zappa said, they were Frank’s last band. They were also perhaps his best band, and I find their dedication to the music awe-inspiring.
I think The Yellow Shark is also about AAAAFNRAA, an acronym for “Anything Anytime Anywhere For No Reason At All.” I had not heard of this aesthetic until I began researching The Yellow Shark, but Gail Zappa mentions it often in discussing this project. I think the term itself requires no definition; it is clear to any Zappa fan what it means. It is why Hermann Kretzschmar is reading a library card on Everything Is Healing Nicely, which is how he ended up reading a form from Homeland Security on “Welcome to the United States,” which is a chilling, yet straightforward, piece. Do not underestimate the power of AAAAFNRAA. It can lead to good things.
I also think The Yellow Shark is about EIHN. They are very different recordings. But it is absolutely fascinating to hear these fine musicians in rehearsal. And there are a few tracks on this album that are just downright enjoyable. If you look up The Yellow Shark on Amazon, I highly suggest heading over to Barfko Swill to pick yourself up a copy of this. It is well worth the time.
I will be the first to admit that I prefer Zappa with a guitar in his hand rather than a baton and that the Zappa album that means the most for me is and always will be the very first one. But I enjoyed listening to and appreciating The Yellow Shark more than I possibly could have imagined. It is a wonderful way to gain new insight into the man, the artist, the composer, the guy we celebrate every year.
Not to mention that it’s one hell of a wonderful bunch of music.