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Anxiety of Influence

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Album Review

The Meridian Arts Ensemble is made of a traditional brass quintet plus piano and drums. Their love of the music of the late Frank Zappa is apparent, as they have covered it on several of their CDs. On this occasion, trumpeter Jon Nelson arranged several Zappa compositions as a mini-suite, starting with the somewhat obscure "Run Home Slow" (the theme for a movie soundtrack composed in 1959 for a low-budget film, long before Zappa became famous), followed by a brief comical rendition of "The Little March" and a variation on the solo piano introduction to "Little House I Used to Live In" (appropriately played as a piano solo by Jon Klibonoff, who stays close to the original recording), while the full band performs a section of the main piece as played on Zappa's Fillmore East: June 1971 album. "The Black Page," a challenging work written for Zappa drummer Terry Bozzio, is reprised by drummer John Ferrari, with the full band slowing down the piece's theme, mixing impressionism with a loopy klezmer air. The ensemble switches gears to deliver a richly textured interpretation of Claude Debussy's "Sarabande," while modern composer Stephen Barber's "Semahane (Whirling Well)" sounds influenced by Edgard Varèse. The ensemble's French horn player, Daniel Grabois, composed the haunting "Zen Monkey," while Nelson's spirited arrangement of the traditional Afro-Cuban theme "El Solitario" is a lively affair. The remaining tracks are equally adventurous and full of surprises.

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