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.