I Got Nothin’

It’s the final day of Zappadan, and I hate to admit that I got nothin’. I shot my load and did not plan wisely enough to be presenting something as fantastic as G-Spot Tornado today. Or much else. Sorry about that.

All I can report is that I spent a bit of time last night scouring a Metafilter post that discussed the end-of-year music lists. Not a bad thing to do in the waning days of Zappadan; looking for new music. You really do have to pan for it though. I think what’s true now has always been true, that actually good music is damned difficult to find. Most popular music today eludes me, and this is probably partly a function of me getting older, although I have to admit that I’ve recently become fascinated by Nicki Minaj. Boom boom boom doomp.

But that is, sadly, what most “music” is now; a manufactured product increasingly not even made in America, just like everything else. Sometimes, though, you come across an act that is actually trying to make MUSIC.

In that spirit, I present to you, ladies and gentlemen, the Alabama Shakes.

Note that each of these clips is a live performance, not a studio recording or a music video. And for every one I’ve posted, there are 40 more on the YouTube. Live. That means these kids can actually play musical instruments.

Ya’ll can find them at alabamashakes.bandcamp.com where the EP is downloadable for $4. Embed is here:

Facebook page is here, complete with tour dates.

Music. Still the best. Merry Zappadan.


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.

Václav Havel

Those of us who are celebrating the holy holiday of Zappadan this year recognize the passing of one Václav Havel, dissident, artist, and the first President of the Czech Republic, who is reported to have discorporated permanently today.

Havel was a rabid fan of Frank Zappa. His favorite Frank Zappa album was Bongo Fury.

Frank Zappa was one of the gods of the Czech underground, I thought of him as a friend. Whenever I feel like escaping from the world of the Presidency, I think of him.

Zappa was so well regarded in the Czech Republic that he for a while entertained the idea of becoming involved in politics there. But Uncle Sam turned the screws on that idea. Then he came down with that cancer bug.

Farewell to Václav Havel. He’s remembered this Zappadan.

G-Spot Tornado

The Yellow Shark, An Appreciation. Merry Zappadan.

First thing you should do is listen to the track off of Jazz From Hell. I did manage to find a link to it on Vimeo. If you are not familiar with the piece, and if you have a heart condition, tread carefully. This is what you might call a “high energy” number.

When he composed it, it’s pretty clear that Zappa intended to push his music machine, the Synclavier, to the limit.

So here’s how the story goes on Ali Askin’s the liner notes from Everything Is Healing Nicely, in discussing a track called “This Is A Test (AKA Igor).”

Part of Frank’s overall plan was to compose on the Synclavier for the Ensemble Modern so the first order of business was to see how well this plan would work. On the night before the first day of rehearsals, he asked me reorchestrate his Synclavier composition entitled “Igor” and arrange it for the Ensemble Modern, preparing printed parts and a conductor’s score. Frank replace the title with “This Is A Test” right before printing out the parts for the next morning, just so that the musicians would know the purpose of this short piece. As so often happens, the title stuck.

This next part is remarkable and tells you a lot about these musicians.

This recording is a first take performance by musicians who were sight-reading music just handed to them. It illustrates not only the technical skill of this orchestra but the fact that they managed to be expressive and impart a style into what they played, even while struggling to accurately render something they had never seen before.

It’s interesting to note that one of these tests was “G-Spot Tornado.” After about an hour of rehearsing, Frank deemed it a failed experiment and put it aside. The members of the ensemble however were determined to master it and continued to practice it on their own. By the time that the Yellow Shark concerts took place, “G-Spot Tornado” served as the finale and the encore.

Imagine listening to something like the track off of Jazz From Hell and thinking hellz yeah we can play that. And they play the fuck out of it. And the La La La Human Steps (those dancers there) give it a big beautiful bushy set of eyebrows. I believe I’ve embedded and lauded this performance in previous years of Zappadan blogging, but knowing that it was the players, not Zappa, who insisted on making this happen just makes it that much more incredible.

A View From Deep Inside Zappastan

Seeing a few nice ornaments on the Zappadan tree lately. For example.

Ape Think offers a fantastic historical document: The start of the show at at the Montreaux Casino, Switzerland, December 4, 1971. Not only is it historically interesting, but it’s, how you say? Oh, yes. “Fuckin’ cool.”

There’s also a picture of Frank Zappa holding a cat.

In fact, hell, just go over to Ape Think and spend some time. That’s a blog that’s doing Zappadan like a Mother.

Likewise with Iranianredneck. Just go over there and spend some quality time, but in particular is a MIND BLOWING performance focusing on drummer Terry Bozzio.

Contingencies is all about the Zappa/Jack Kirby connection.

Rawrahs has me asking, why in the wide wide world of sports is a Pennsylvania State Trooper interviewing Mr. Zappa?

Who else is all over Zappadan? Tiny Little Circles, that’s who.

Under The Lobsterscope has been active as well, but in particular has a post with a rather nice insight, I think: Do you suppose Zappa was influenced by Spike Jones? Watch the Spike Jones clip and if you don’t end it by laughing out loud, you are a Cylon.

Shameless product placement: Do not forget to stop by Urantian Sojourn to pick up your very own package of Toaster Poot.

That’s the report from Zappastan.

If I missed you or if you want to brag about your brilliant Zappadan post, or if you just want to tell me to go fuck myself, please leave a comment. Thanks, and Merry Zappadan!

Exercise #4

The Yellow Shark, An Appreciation. Merry Zappadan.

If you’re interested in Zappa history, this is, apparently, a tune you want to hear.

I couldn’t find it on the YouTube, but thanks to the WP plugin known as Haiku, you can just steal a listen here:

Zappa comments in the liner notes:

This tune dates from 1957 or ’58. It was originally a string quartet I wrote right about the time I graduated (from high school). It’s one of the oldest pieces, and it’s been played by just about every one of the touring bands, in one version or another.

Like this, from back in the day:

Includes Dog Breath and Uncle Meat, so this clip is very relevant to the topic at hand.

Pound for a Brown

The Yellow Shark, An Appreciation. Merry Zappadan.

So many Zappa titles remind me of this (embedding disabled, worth the click).

From Barry Miles’ Zappa: A Biography:

England also inspired the title of ‘A Pound For a Brown On The Bus’, an attractive tune originally written for a string quartet in a music competition that William Ballard, Frank’s high-school music teacher suggested he enter. When the Mothers flew in from Amsterdam to play the Royal Festival Hall, they were provided with a coach to take them to the Winton Hotel. The bus had very large windows and during the trip Jimmy Carl Black made a wager with Bunk Gardner: ‘I’ll bet you a pound you won’t Brown Out on this here bus.’ Gardner had his trousers down and his cheeks spread across the window before anybody knew what was happening.

If there is a Zappa piece that sounds like Christmas, it is this performance of “Pound For a Brown.”

Welcome to the United States

The Yellow Shark, An Appreciation. Merry Zappadan.

From the liner notes, in mid-paragraph:

[Herman] Kretzschmar, who is normally employed at the piano, cembalo, and celeste, found himself inside a piano at Joe’s Garage rehearsals, reciting everything from his library card to a rather colorful letter-to-the-editor of a flesh-piercing magazine (detailing methods of impaling genitals) while the Ensemble gamely improvised under Zappa’s direction. At the “Yellow Shark” concerts, Kretzschmar’s Dr. Strangelove-like vocalizing was employed to recite (verbatim) actual questions from a less-than-hospitable U.S. customs form during “Welcome to the United States. This points up another of Zappa’s characteristics compositional traits: he is open to chance and whimsy in choosing subjects and themes, whether in music or text. He often makes artistic use of whatever happens along (hence the customs form, piercing magazine, and libray card)—a concept he labels “Anything Anytime Anyplace For No Reason At All” (AAAFNRAA) As [Todd] Yvega, who is also a composer commented: “A lot of times in the world of so-called serious music, people take it so seriously. To Frank, everything is entertainment. You’re either entertained, or you’re not. And nothing is serious. Which is why you can have something that supposedly is serious and suddenly have someone stick his plunger on the side of his face. I do think of his music as being important in the sense I think it will be around for many centuries. It’s serious in that respect, but it is, after all, there to amuse us.

When I read this, I knew I simply had to get my hands on Everything Is Healing Nicely. A hint: Don’t bother going to Amazon if you, too, want to acquire this gem. You can only get it there as a collectible, for like $50. You can get it right from the source for $20. It comes in a beautiful felt case (though I am afraid it will be mighty difficult to keep clean, especially if you happen to reside with a long-haired cat as I do).

Kretzschmar is a rare talent, and Zappa saw that and tapped it. From the EIHN liner notes:

The distinctive timbre of his voice, the German accent, and the humorous pace of his delivery obviously struck Frank as a vehicle to be developed and utilized.


The source material for this piece is certainly worth a read.

On a somewhat-related note, there is a typo in the liner notes that tickles me senseless.

[Zappa] acted as emcee, and conducted three pieces in those two concerts: “Food Gathering in Post-Industrial America, 1992”, “Welcome to the Untied States” and the encore, ” G-Spot Tornado.”

It has been my preferred editorial style for a long time to refer to the country in which we reside as the Untied States. It is now a style that is fortified in print. Grin.