Review Summary: Ponty plays the music of Frank Zappa
This album is probably the most important work in Jean-Luc Ponty’s career, in that it’s both the turning point that gave him a visibility his previous work in mainstream Jazz would have never made possible, and the opportunity to escape the growing pressures that wanted to push him into commercial music. The source of Ponty’s breakthrough was the mutual admiration he developed with Frank Zappa; the former saw Zappa’s sophisticated music as a serious alternative to the mainstream simplicity he was being coerced to experiment with, whereas the first thing the latter did after hearing a Ponty record was to invite him to play in Hot Rats
; Zappa was so interested in Ponty’s mix of classical background and ability to improvise.
Basically a musical aesthetics continuation to Hot Rats
, King Kong: Jean-Luc Ponty Plays the Music of Frank Zappa
is exactly what it says: Zappa writes and arranges the songs and Ponty plays the main themes and does the majority of soloing on either electric violin or baritone violectra
with a backing band of usually electric piano/bass/drums/sax. Frank Zappa then returns the favor by playing guitar on the sole Ponty composition, "How Would You Like to Have a Head Like That." The Zappa selections are perfect choices: jazz and avant-garde experimentation are both represented equally (plus a bit of goofy fun at the end, in the form of "America Drinks and Goes Home" from Absolutely Free
Side one is more jazz rock/fusion-oriented: it contains "King Kong", one of the best The Mothers of Invention
's work, and the excellent "The Idiot Bastard Son" track, taken from the earlier Mothers' We're only in it for the money
album; it also contains the wonderful "20 Small Cigars", covered a bit later on the Zappa's Chunga's Revenge
; and fantastic soloing from everyone involved, especially George Duke on keys. Side two is a serious 'extended orchestral work', the 20 minute track "Music for Violin and Low Budget Orchestra." Zappa's skills at arranging and orchestration are showcased well, and the whole piece goes through about 100 different changes and textures throughout the 19 minutes. Despite the 'low-budget' he still is able to score for viola, cello, bass, piano, flute, french horn, tuba, oboe, English horn, bassoon, and of course, Ponty's electric violin.
Overall, King Kong
is an absolutely excellent album and definitely worth looking out. This sure feels like a Zappa album. Frank wrote the tunes, and if memory serves he conducted and rearranged the songs, as well as playing guitar on Ponty's one original track, and this album is the best recorded example of his "serious" music until his fully satisfying work with the Ensemble Modern late in his life. Anyway, while Ponty fans might dig this, it really is a Zappa album in all but name, and King Kong
is too often overlooked by Zappa's fanbase.