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Album Liner Notes
If Zappa were writing the notes, he would surely warn you immediately of the total lack of commercial potential He is not alone in his awareness of the value of reverse psychology. I am so concerned about the success of this album that I wouldn't dream of recommending it.

             Necessity was the mother of Jean-Luc Ponty. Nothing truly new had happened in jazz violin - well, nothing that made any impact - since Ray Dance joined Duke, almost 30 years ago. Dick Bock was the mother of collaboration. "I'd heard more and more about Frank Zappa in jazz circles. Then Frank played me some of the "Hot Rats" album, which he was still working on. It was hard to pigeonhole; just fascinating instrumental music. Then I took an acetate of Jean-Luc to Frank's house. A few days later Jean-Luc played on a "Hot Rats" track. (Not available at this counter; try Bizarre Records.}

            As Ponty and Zappa promptly developed an interest in each other's music the concept of a collaborative project was born. Frank was particularly concerned) with the development of an extended orchestral work, a formal piece tied to no one idiom and allowing Ponty interludes of expressive freedom. Music For Electric Violin and Low Budget Orchestra (a title decided upon, one suspects, after Zappa had asked Bock for a 97-piece ensembles is illustrative of Zappa's mastery not only of composition and orchestration, but also of transition. It emerges not as a segmented series of ideas arbitrarily linked together, but as a securely integrated whole that moves with almost subliminal subtlety from one tempo, meter, mood or idiom to another, and from reading to blowing; from the opening bassoon figure to the demonic closing violin passages in 7/8, it sustains the validity throughout its multi-textured duration.

            The long work was conducted by Ian Underwood, former alto saxophonist and keyboardist with the Mothers of Invention, possessor of a bachelor's from Yale and a master's from Berkeley in piano and composition.

            "Don Christlieb is one of the best bassoonists around, especially for the avant garde," says F.Z. "He has played Stockhausen and does regular concerts of contemporary music." He is also the father of Pete Christlieb, one of Hollywood's brightest new jazz tenor saxes. .

            Arthur D. Tripp, III, formerly the Mothers' percussionist, spent two years with the Cincinnati Symphony. {Zappa: "He really gets into those meters.") Buell Neidlinger, a premature jazz avantist, played with Cecil Taylor and Gil Evans in the 1950s. "He's with the Boston Symphony now N says Frank, "but I had to fly him out of there-he's the only man I can think of who could play the bass par' on the long piece.''

            Of the compositions on side one, it need only be said that they place Ponty in settings generally closer to jazz lit that term is still capable of definitions, the first three being basically in three and composed by Zappa. The Ponty number (composed by Jean- Luc, in four, arranged by Zappa} is the easiest blowing track, a G 7 vamp that provides a base for some of his most resourceful and unpredictable shifting of phrases, dissonant concepts and hard-swinging, post-Stuff Smith execution.

            For me, the blowing on "How Would You Like To Have A Head" Like That constitute Ponty's best work in the album. For Zappa, Jean-Luc's peak is reached on "Idiot Bastard Son". For both of us, George Duke is a phenomenon throughout all tracks. "I'm only surprised N Frank comments That he didn't happen sooner." He certainly has happened now, with a little help from friends Bock and Ponty, on earlier collaborations, on records and in person.

            Analyzing the overall performances, one could point out a number of details, like the ingenuity of the slowed-down pulse at the climatic point in "King Kong", the tight teamwork between Ponty and Ernie Watts on "Cigars," Ernie's solo and Zappa's wah-wah assertions on "Head." One would be wasting one's time, since they are all clearly enough recorded to be heard without lectures or blackboard illustrations. A final word must be added, though, for the brief closing track on side 2, "America Drinks And Goes Home" has a put-on flavor, a quixotic rhythmic and melodic quality almost a touch of the Zeitgeist of Cabaret. John Guerin was allowed total freedom, George Duke gets into the feel of the piece, which, as Frank says, "suggests a bunch of drunks leaning up against a bar." The galloping finale brings the work to a disarmingly abrupt end. Like "idiot Bastard Son" and "King Kong," this was previously recorded by the Mothers. Just as it mirrors the growing unification of all musics, the Ponty-Zappa fusion shows that if you team a freaky French fiddler from over there with a master of the bizarre and the guitar from over here, what might seem to invite double jeopardy produces double sgenius.

Leonard Feather

Composed and Arranged by Frank Zappa

"How Would You Like To Have A Head Like That" Composed by Jean-Luc Ponty


FZ: "We're having five sessions for the Ponty album and with all the musicians who are on it we've got a budget of eight thousand dollars."

PONTY INTERVIEW, April 22, 1997

LE JAZZ -  Tell us how you met Zappa.

JEAN LUC PONTY  -  My producer didn't  know Zappa personally, but he encouraged me to get out and meet other musicians. Zappa was already famous, even among jazz musicians, for his sophisticated instrumental style. I  realized that we were  very different on many levels.  For  a  long  time I  resisted  doing  anything  other than mainstream jazz. My  producer wanted me to  do Californian things of the period, even  very commercial things, but  that didn't appeal to me at  all. But  I knew Zappa  wasn't into  easy music,  that he did serious work. So we got together  and Zappa was impressed right away by what I was  doing with George Duke. At  the time, George Duke was an unknown  young pianist.  My producer  asked Zappa  to arrange his music for my next album under my name. He accepted, and he was ready two or three weeks later. This  was around the time he was recording "Hot  Rats," and  he suggested  I go  by  the studio  to see  how he worked. Three  weeks after that  we recorded "King  Kong," which was really unorthodox for  me. Thanks to my  classical background, I had no trouble with any of the  written music. He had hired musicians he often used for his own records, jazz musicians, really, from the Los Angeles studios.  I insisted on  using George Duke,  because we were always playing  together. I wanted  to have at  least one musician I knew. It  was a very  interesting experience. We  were curious about each other. He was interested in  jazz and above all in contemporary classical music.  He was  very interested by  my mix  of a classical background and  the ability  to improvise.  That's why  he called me later to ask me  to join his group,  the Mothers of Invention, for a tour  of  America  in  1976. That  was  the  second  time  we worked together, and  it was based  on a misunderstanding.  Zappa had asked George Duke to  join the Mothers of  Invention. But George felt kind of lonely  among all  those rockers,  and he  left Zappa  to go with Cannonball Adderley.  He passed  through Paris  with Cannonball, and told  me a  group  was being  put together  in  Los Angeles  and his manager wanted me to be part of  it. George told me, "If you accept, I  will too."  But I  hadn't understood  it was  to play  in Zappa's group. In the end I found myself in Los Angeles, touring with Zappa. It was again a very interesting experience at the beginning, because Zappa took out  all the very complex  instrumental music that he had stashed in his desk  for a long time  since it was too sophisticated for the previous  members of the Mothers.  He had written music that was very  influenced by Stravinsky,  so he wanted  to put together a group of  excellent instrumentalists.  But the  public lost interest quickly, and he had  to go back to  satire and more commercial rock. That wasn't what I wanted to do,  so I left after only seven months. He  didn't take  it well  at all  and we  parted on  very bad terms.

LE JAZZ -  Another important  musical encounter was John McLaughlin, with  whom you  played for almost  a  year and  recorded two albums.

JEAN LUC  PONTY -  John  is English, and  he'd read about  me in the European music press. We met in New York, when he had come over from England  to  play with  Tony  Williams.  When he  started  the first Mahavishnu  Orchestra, he  was  going to  give  me a  call,  but his manager was against it  because I lived in  France. But in 1974, for the  second Mahavishnu  Orchestra, I  was in  the United  States. We toured together for a month, Zappa's group and Mahavishnu. With John I was much more in my element, musically, especially since the group was doing purely instrumental music.

LE JAZZ -  Was McLaughlin very demanding technically ?

JEAN LUC PONTY  -  Less so than  Zappa. He was  demanding in that he knew what he wanted, but  it was nothing extraordinary, particularly for me with my classical background.


AFFZ Notes and Comments

Subject: Re: How Would You Like To Have A Head Like That

     From: Patrick Neve (splat@darkwing.uoregon.edu)
Try singing the title of this song along to the Jean-Luc Ponty composition.. it fits perfectly!

      From: Peter ^Ŕberg (PETEROBE@vbtn.sr.se)
Yes, I've always wondered if there might be a version with lyrics lurking somewhere.

     From: Paul Hinrichs (paulhinr@mindspring.com)
It's so we can analyze them without there ACTUALLY being any lyrics. In this case, IMO, "head" is used in the vernacular musical sense, like, you know, the main theme.

     From: Michael Gula (mikegula@MORESPAMerols.com)
It contains the ONLY recording of "Twenty Small Cigars" that tells us how the tune goes after the fade-out on the Chunga's Revenge album.

When I first heard George Duke's solo on King Kong, I said to myself, "Wow! That guy is fantastic! Wish Zappa would hire guys like him to play in his band!"

Additionally, the version of "America Drinks And Goes Home" includes a delightfully intoxicated-sounding "new" section written by FZ which you will hear nowhere else... the "lopsided" rhythmic gyrations in the "new" section of "America Drinks and Goes Home", just before the vocal interjections. What the hell *are* those things? Pay special attention to the way Duke and Johnny Guerin play on that track. Ponty barely has a presence there...Duke and Guerin OWN that track!

"Low-Budget Orchestra" is an early version of the piece available on Studio Tan/Lšther--comparing the two versions is a fascinating pursuit. It alone is worth more than double the price of the CD.

What about the lovely version of "Duke of Prunes" that pops up for no obvious reason in "Low Budget Orchestra!" Just listen to the way Duke phrases his solo. Pure genius!

And tell me honestly now, Weren't you surprised when you first heard the "missing" measures in "Low Budget"...right around measure 53? To this day when I hear the Lšther version I expect to hear them there! I wish FZ had explained why he took those measures out.

And it has my absolutely favorite version of "Pound For a Brown" (not even mentioned in the track listing) in the close of "Low Budget Orchestra." Again, listen to Duke's wild, atonal "mutant" jazz solo during the handclapping section.

Essential, absolutely essential for anyone interested in Zappa!

     From: Ken Walter (kwalter@home.com)
The LP version was not on Blue Note (I believe the "Cantaloupe Island" reissue was) but on World Pacific Jazz Records (ST-20172). There are at least two versions of the back cover, one with two photos that included FZ and one with two different photos. The original copy I bought in 1974 had the Zappa photos. Did he make Ponty remove the photos at some point? There is an interview where he really disses Ponty somewhere.

I wonder if FZ got mad at Ponty and made him change the photos?

The CD reissue had no photos.



The original issue back cover photos.



The revised back cover photos.