Zappa Creates Musical Magic

By Don Heckman

The New York Times, September 24, 1972

Mothers of Invention Offer Jazz-Rock-Classic Fare

Frank Zappa proved again Friday night[1] that he is a master of musical sleight-of-hand. Dealing with a Felt Forum audience that clearly expected to hear a medley of old Mother of Invention hits like “Son of Suzy Creamcheese,” “Are You Hung Up?”, “Nasal Retentive Calliope Music,” “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” and other similar provocatively titled tunes Zappa gave them instead fluxed bag of jazz-rock-classical music from a 20-musician ensemble. It is to his credit – or perhaps to the persistence of memory – that the audience loved what it got.

For true Mothers of Invention fans, some of the thematic material might have sounded familiar, but Zappa’s knack for building a word imagery that penetrates to the center of the teenage psyche (the foundation of his commercial success) was missing; there were no vocals.

Only the tune titles recalled the marvelous inanity that Zappa conjures up to mask his serious musical intentions: “The New Brown Clouds, “Low Budget Dog Meat (A Medley), ” “For Calvin & His Next Two Hitch-Hikers,” “The Adventures of Greggery Peccary.”

A La Bernstein

He seems to have settled comfortably into his role as the Leonard Bernstein of rock. Like Bernstein, Zappa has mastered the elements of one musical discipline (pop-rock, in his case) and attempts to ally them with elements from another (for Zappa, classical music). The results are often curiously parallel to Bernstein’s –creations that are neither fish nor fowl, that survive almost as a result of sheer will rather than because of their intrinsic vitality.

One could hear warmed-over hits of Stravinsky, Shostakovitch and Milhaud in some of the works; weird, bitonal marches and processionals recalled the view “serious” composers in the Twenties had of American jazz; rock rhythms underlay everything and extensive solo space was allotted, to jazz improvisations.

Fascinating? In places, although one can think of composers who, given the resources of this excellent 20-piece group, might have done considerably better. Yet Zappa is undeniably a true original, and one of the pop-rock movement’s first composers with a genuine esthetic overview of the music’s enormous potentials. When he gets over his fascination with decades-old classical devices, he might produce some powerful music.

1. September 22. As a part of Grand Wazoo Tour Zappa had two concerts at Felt Forum, NYC - September 22 and 23. (zappateers tracker)

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