Ensemble MusikFabrik: A Tribute to Frank Zappa - Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 28 August 2013
Earthy and soaring concert of outrageously good musicianship to nourish the adventurous concertgoer
This article is from 2013.
It takes a certain effort of imagination to accept that the man who wrote a song called 'Why Does It Hurt While I Pee?' was the greatest American composer of his time, but Ensemble MusikFabrik's A Tribute to Frank Zappa, played with the precision of keyhole surgery and the fervour of a gospel meeting, would convert anyone.
It began with a majestic pairing of 'Big Swifty' and 'T'Mershi Duween' rearranged for brass and drum kit alone (idea: somebody should really program Zappa and Hindemith together) but there was also space for a hilariously childish spat between two trumpeters. John Cage's Credo in US alternated solemn ostinati, parodic jazzy piano runs and disciplined outbursts of coffee-can bashing with blasts of a recording of The Rite of Spring. It was jolly enough, but compared to the next piece – Cage's Seven – it was number one with a bullet. A drawn-out exploration of not very much musical material, if Seven was meant to test the listener's patience it was a roaring success. After it finished the musicians briefly left the stage, and a good part of the crowd, evidently under the impression that the previous half-hour of groaning strings had been Edgard Varèse's six-minute all-percussion Ionisation, immediately headed for the bar. The Usher's ushers nudged them back into the hall, and the highly amused MusikFabrik restored morale with an electrifying Ionisation, the piece that inspired Zappa to compose in the first place. After the interval they played it again, and the repetition highlighted Varèse's virtuosic deployment of contrasting timbres, the final combination of chime, gong and piano making the hall ring like a huge bell.
Zappa's 'The Black Page' was given a triple outing – drum version, 'hard' version and 'easy, teenage, Edinburgh Festival version' – the musicians negotiating its terrifying septuplets with outrageous cool, making an extraordinary piece of abstract music sound like a fanfare from a better world. 'RDNZL', had a glorious, filthy guitar solo from Frank Wingold. 'Echidna's Arf/Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?' stole the show, percussionist Dirk Rothbrust steering the ensemble between strutting funk, delicately balanced pizzicato strings, and furious solos from himself and guest soloists Thomas Meixner and Johannes Fischer, which climaxed with Rothbrust flinging drumsticks at his colleagues. For an encore, the brassy, cheerful strut of 'Peaches en Regalia' brought the audience to its feet.
Managing to be both earthy and soaring, this concert proved beyond any doubt that Zappa's music has more than enough essential vitamins and minerals to nourish the adventurous concertgoer. Outstanding.