Friday, August 7, 2009

The Weasel Music

Perhaps the most mysterious item I have encountered in my review of Frank Zappa’s recordings – both official and bootleg – is the item known as “The Weasel Music.” This recording’s provenance has not been well documented on the Web, at least as far as I am able to determine. And the few sites where downloads are still available all seem to repeat verbatim the same “history” of the recording. Below is what these various sites inevitably post as information regarding the recording:

Here it is:

1/24th of “The History and Collected Improvisations of the MOI.”

THE STORY OF THE ACQUISITION: A firsthand account from my source ...

So I get a call from the widow of the great artist, Neon Park. She says, “I’ve been going through Marty’s stuff (Neon’s real name was Marty) and I have a lot of records of his. I was talking to (mutual friend) Betzy and she said you like records. Do you want them?” and, being the vinyl hound I am, I said, “You bet! I’ll take ‘em all sight unseen.” She said, “Okay, I’ll go pull the can back in from the street.” She had had them all in a trash can waiting for the Sanitation Engineers to pick them up.

Now I know Neon worked for many years doing album art for Warner Brothers (best known for Zappa’s WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH and his string of covers for LITTLE FEAT) and was on their mailing list for new releases. Upon going through the LPs from the trash bin I found the usual assortment of product, some good, some not to my liking.

But then...

In an envelope addressed to Mr. Frank Zappa at his Laurel Canyon address, I found three studio acetate test recordings: a early ELO LP, a copy of Jean-Luc Ponty’s Zappa tribute LP, KING KONG, and a curious disc labeled “The Weasel Music”. Suspecting that this might indeed BE SOMETHING, I cautiously played it once. It seemed to be a live recording of the Mothers goofing around on stage doing what I guessed to be a mock-ballet. While light pseudo-classical piano arpeggios play (Ian Underwood?) you can hear the shuffling of feet and various antics while the crowd respond with laughter and amusement. I would imagine that it was mostly a visual presentation as opposed to an essential Zappa musical composition.

I kept this relic in good condition, still in its original envelope and cardboards. I lent it to my new friend and Zappaphile, Krel, when I moved to Little Rock. He has played it only twice, recording it both times.

So there you go.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I have been unable to precisely identify the author of the above. I believe he or she was identified in the post where I first found this FLAC file, but the original post has been removed since that time, and none of the other sites I have found that post this identify the author.

The current owner of this one-sided disc may know who received that serendipitous call from Neon Park’s widow; the original recording sold in an eBay auction in August, 2008, for $2,125. However, it is possible that the true provenance of the recording remains unknown.

A Rolling Stone article from Oct. 18, 1969, identified “The Weasel Music” as part of a 12-LP project Zappa had in mind for something called the Mothers of Invention Record Club. Neil Slaven briefly mentions this same information in his Zappa biography, “Electric Don Quixote.” So it seems that “The Weasel Music” was among those of Zappa’s projects that never saw the light of day, or if they did come to fruition, fell short of his original vision (think Lather).

So what is on “The Weasel Music”? It’s a live recording apparently from a performance by the Mothers of Invention at the Royal Albert Hall in London. It begins with Zappa addressing the audience. He tells them they are about to hear some chamber music, as well as some “zany Mothers of Invention bullshit.” He also introduces Noel Redding, guitarist from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, who is to perform some dancing during the “ballet” portion of the concert.

“Chamber Music Piece 1” is very representative of the style of music Zappa was recording for “Burnt Weeny Sandwich.” Hardly the melodic chamber music one associates with the genre, this piece is a complex avant-garde mixture of unusual time signatures and woodwinds that move from dolorous tones to soaring notes that remind me of a frenetic humming bird.

It is clear with the next track, “Mozart Ballet,” that this performance had visual elements to it, which makes one wonder; if Zappa took the time to record this concert for a future project, and there were visual elements, it would seem logical that there is film out there as well. Anyone out there who was at this performance? If so, did you see anyone filming it? This “performance art” is set to Ian Underwood’s playing fragments from Mozart’s “Piano Sonata in B Flat” while other members of the band are “hopping around” on stage. Judging by the audience’s audible reaction, it was a delightful and amusing performance.

This blends into the next track, “Some Zany MOI Bullshit,” after the Mozart piece breaks down into some cacophony reminiscent of “Weasels Rip My Flesh.” The vocals have a feel of some of the choral bits from the “2001: A Space Odyssey” soundtrack, which, incidentally, was released the year before. The recording finishes with a brief track titled “Chamber Music Piece 2,” which to my ear sounds like a studio track, rather than something from the Albert Hall performance.

Overall, a very interesting, albeit arcane, recording of slightly more than 19 minutes representative of the musical styles and head space Zappa was exploring at the time.

I rate this four of five stars. Add your own rating below.

Unreleased recording allegedly made in 1969; only one vinyl copy apparently in existence.

Track listing:

1. Albert Hall Spoken Introduction (2:05)
2. Chamber Music Piece 1 (4:04)
3. Mozart Ballet (9:47)
4. Some Zany MOI Bullshit (2:41)
5. Chamber Music Piece 2 (0:40)

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