Written, arranged and produced by Jon Larsen in its entirety, and recorded in Los Angeles in March 2007 with former Frank Zappa band alumni — Tommy Mars, Bruce Fowler, Jimmy Carl Black and Arthur Barrow (also engineered the recording) — Strange News From Mars tells the story of the spacecraft Big Ear III’s voyage to the red planet:
You are now onboard spaceship Big Ear III on the first surrealistic expedition to Mars. We have left the Earth behind, and passed the point of no return.
Three decades ago Big Ear I received an inexplicable signal from space, the mysterious WOW-signal. Whatever it was, our quest on this expedition is no less than to explore this phenomenon and try to answer two other questions that have confused our civilization for millennia.
The crew members are carefully chosen among the finest surrealists of our time, and we aim to please. However, we are in terra incognita, so be prepared for the unexpected.
Larsen is a guitarist, composer and painter. Painting was his first vocation, and from studying Dali and surrealism in the late 70s he eventually started infusing much of that spirit into music, especially when he took up composing in the nineties. What luck then when individual members of Zappa’s old crew, who Larsen so admired, should approach him with a desire to play on his Mars concept (when they heard of the project) when Larsen went over to LA to start the sessions.
Even though the compositions are all Larsen’s, there is no doubt that the spirit of Zappa infuses the entire album (listen to “Mutant Fromage” and “The Eons Are Closing” on Larsen’s Myspace page). This is made most evident by the key roles that these former Zappa alumni have on the record (Strange time changes, unexpected changes, extended vamps, jumpy bursts of marimba, comedic interjections and Zappa-inspired textures). Needless to say, it is Larsen’s core band of Norwegian musicians that so effectively mimic Zappa’s more jazzy excursions, whom along with and from the gathered alumni are able to build upon the Zappa oeuvre.
One of my favorite tracks on the album, “Dachs Reduction” exemplifies this:
Musicians on Strange News From Mars:
Jon Larsen – guitar, martian
Tommy Mars – keyboards, telephone
Bruce Fowler – trombone
Arthur Barrow – general magic & bass
Rob Waring – marimba
Jimmy Carl Black – vocal, percussion
Knut Reiersrud – guitar, harmonica
Ole Morten Vågan – bass
Håkon Mjåset Johansen – drums
Note: This was a difficult album to track down. Even my usual CD ordering service had to order this one in. To save you time, I suggest you order Larsen/Zonic titles from here.