Ensemble Modern
Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions


That the sad tenth anniversary of Frank Zappa's death was commemorated in such a low-key manner is a fact that can't really be regarded as unexpected: nowadays the man's recorded legacy has a pretty low commercial profile (it already went down considerably during the last ten years of his life), a revival of his fortunes seems to be highly unlikely, and those few mags that (at least, according to their Editors) don't really care about commercial considerations but are quite trendy nonetheless, appear not to care much. As is maybe typical of the times we're living, I happened to read a few shoddy articles on a few (so-called) quality newspapers whose activity of spending a lot of time watching the slime that their astute enemy makes ooze from the general population's TV sets seems to have made them (unwilling? unable? without hope?) of making any "countercultural" efforts.

But the problem, as they say, is a lot more complex. In fact, with very rare exceptions, the ink dedicated to the anniversary has mostly been used in magazines that could be defined as being "high risk" - if not from the point of view of the actual circulation, then from the point of view of the topic that they cover more frequently: that is, jazz. That jazz, you'll remember, that "ain't dead, it just smells funny", as per Zappa's motto. While the worst premonitions represented by the title of the series You Can't Do That Onstage Anymore seems to have become true - unless with "stage" we mean that particular kind of stage that's kept alive by funding ('til when?).

As is well-known, the Ensemble Modern was quite near to Frank Zappa during the last years of his life - in fact, they became a kind of "living laboratory" that stood near the Synclavier, the digital instrument to which the Ensemble line-up was in some ways superior. And it's not really necessary being a superfan to be familiar with the album titled The Yellow Shark (1993), where their meticulous precision went hand-in-hand with the human warmth of their execution.

Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions follows on that path - successfully and masterfully, with the help of some former Zappa collaborators: Ali N. Askin (arrangements and transcriptions), Todd Yvega (the code wizard) and Harry Andronis (of really precious ears). Excellent (and live!) recordings, the music played "con sentimento", a very good sound, a CD that I bought at the mall near my home... In a word, simply perfect.

We find a beautiful and varied repertory. Moggio is the opener, then we have Night School and The Beltway Bandits: even without the beautiful precision of Jazz From Hell (some people at the time called it "aseptic" - boo!), they are rich with a precise kind of exuberance; while A Pig With Wings and Put A Motor In Yoursef (those who remember 'em, please raise your hands!) come from the double album Civilization Phaze III (1994), released after the post-mortem attention span was over. Revised Music For Low Budget Orchestra reminds me of Ponty, Duke and a Fowler (Bruce), hitting the bull's eye by way of complexity. The same can't really be said of the fine Peaches En Regalia (too simple? Get a rock group!). After Naval Aviation In Art? (you remember it, right?), the real surprise comes at the very end: The Adventures Of Greggery Peccary, with Omar Ebrahim and David Moss on vocals. How does it sound? Quite good, which is really the best we could expect and absolutely the best possible compliment I can pay. (Like ghosts, some uncredited arias from 200 Motels follow.)

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2004

CloudsandClocks.net | Jan. 27, 2004