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Album Review

Frank Zappa often complained about how difficult it was to find a classical orchestra that would actually take the time to learn the scores it is presented and try its best to do a honorable job when it comes to contemporary composition. Late in his career, he found such a group of musicians, the Ensemble Modern (which recorded The Yellow Shark), but in the mid-'80s Pierre Boulez' Ensemble InterContemporain recorded a worthy session of material, released in August 1984 on EMI's classical imprint, Angel, as The Perfect Stranger. The title track was commissioned by Boulez, and sees the composer coming back to the days of 200 Motels, both in terms of style (the music is very programmatic) and references (at the center of the piece is the vacuum cleaner found in the aforementioned movie and in the cover artwork of the album Chunga's Revenge). "Naval Aviation in Art?" and "Dupree's Paradise," the latter an old rock piece from 1973 rearranged for orchestra, are also performed by Boulez' ensemble. The remaining four tracks are credited to "The Barking Pumpkin Digital Gratification Consort" — i.e., Zappa's Synclavier, a keyboard computer. "Outside Now, Again" and "Jonestown" are among the darkest, moodiest pieces of computer music the man has written. The composer remixed the album in 1992 and a moved a couple of tracks around. Compared to the London Symphony Orchestra sessions, The Perfect Stranger is a much stronger album with a better, rehearsed ensemble. Still, those not interested in the man's so-called serious music should steer clear of it. ~ François Couture, Rovi


Born: 21 December 1940 in Baltimore, MD

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

Composer, guitarist, singer, and bandleader Frank Zappa was a singular musical figure during a performing and recording career that lasted from the 1960s to the '90s. His disparate influences included doo wop music and avant-garde classical music; although he led groups that could be called rock & roll bands for much of his career, he used them to create a hybrid style that bordered on jazz and complicated, modern serious music, sometimes inducing orchestras to play along. As if his music were not...
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