The Yellow Shark

Released: November 1993


  1. Intro
  2. Dog Breath Variations
  3. Uncle Meat
  4. Outrage At Valdez
  5. Times Beach II
  6. III Revisited
  7. The Girl In The Magnesium Dress
  8. Be-Bop Tango
  9. Ruth Is Sleeping
  10. None Of The Above
  11. Pentagon Afternoon
  12. Questi Cazzi Di Piccione
  13. Times Beach III
  14. Food Gathering In Post Undustrial America, 1992
  15. Welcome To The United States
  16. Pound For A Brown
  17. Exercise # 4
  18. Get Whitey
  19. G-Spot Tornado

Frank Zappa (composer), The Ensemble Modern: Peter Rundel (conductor, violin), Dietmar Wiesner (flute), Catherine Milliken (oboe, english horn, didgeridoo), Roland Diry (clarinet), Wolfgang Stryi (bass clarinet, contrabass, clarinet, tenor saxophone), Veit Scholz (bassoon, contrabassoon), Frankck Ollu (horn), Stefan Dohr (horn), William Formann (trumpet, flügelhorn, piccolo trumpet, cornet), Michael Gross (trumpet, flügelhorn, piccolo trumpet, cornet), Uwe Dierksen (trombone, soprano trombone), Michael Svoboda (trombone, euphonium, didgeridoo, alphorn), Daryl Smith (tuba), Herman Kretzschmar (piano, harpsichord, celeste, dramatic reading), Ueli Wiget (piano, harpsichord, celeste, harp), Rainer Rsmer (percussion), Rumi Ogawa-Helferich (percussion, cymbalom), Andreas Böttger (percussion), Detlef Tewes (mandolin), Jürgen Ruck (guitar, banjo), Ellen Wegnere (harp), Mathias Tacke (violin), Claudia Sack (violin), Hilary Sturt (viola, dramatic reading), Friedemann Dähn (violoncello), Thomas Richter (contrabass, electrocontrabass)

10 thoughts on “The Yellow Shark”

  1. The classical Zappa at his best. The compositions are challenging, going from the more or less easy to listen (eg “Dog Breath Variations” or “G-Spot Tornado”) to the most exquisite and subtle chamber music (eg “The Girl in the Magnesium Dress”). Some of the pieces resemble Anton Webern’s string quartets. If you don’t like 20th century classical music, you’ll find this album very difficult to enjoy. But the performing is so polished, that for sure Zappa’s musical thought can be completely appreciated. Even if you hate classical music, the theatrical “Food Gathering in Post-Industrial America” and “Welcome to the United States” (the only pieces with lyrics, by the way spoken, not sung) are funny. This album goes beyond the catchy tunes, and is very demanding, but once you’ve entered its realm, everything goes nicely.

  2. As soon as i heard tracks 2 and 3 i knew this was a special album. Classical music with Eyebrows to match. Fan-fanny- tastic.

  3. This album was so good because Zappa was wholeheartedly faithful of the ensemble’s ability to interpret his compositions. There is a relationship between Zappa and the ensemble that isn’t present in his earlier orchestral works. I believe that out of all the albums I have heard, this has to be the most passionate and intense. I have yet to hear Civilization Phaze III and I am anxious to hear the Ensemble Modern’s recently released “Greggary Peccary” album (maybe you guys should add it to the discography?). Zappa’s orchestral works show his full voice of creativity as a musician. He pays homage to his affection for jazz in the intense rhythmic drives of the percussion section, he shows he still makes satire and commentary in the spoken tunes but never sacrifices the art of the pieces, and his knowledge of pop/rock music is apparent in his themes and that lyrical quality that has been in all of his instrumentals.

  4. I was inspired to write this review after watching a documentary last night all about the “Yellow Shark rehearsals”. It is a painful documentary to watch, because quite often, Frank appears so weary, so ill and so at war with the cancer that was taking its toll. However, just as often, the TV special shows the real heart of Frank Zappa suddenly jumping to life, as he hears some priceless timbre or sudden sonority that the Ensemble Modern just nailed to his satisfaction. Watching Frank in the special personally direct and sculpt these eager, hungry musicians is probably the most beautiful moments I have ever observed. Frank was definitely blessed with the beautiful gift of having a final project in his life that truly brought to the forefront what was arguably his primary love and goal: to exist and flourish as a “real” composer of 20th century symphonic/chamber music. All of those that truly know and love Frank as a composer in any medium already know and appreicate that he always WAS one, but this very prominent “classical” (I hate using that word) project did what all the “Weird Uncle Frank”/songs with dirty lyrics/groupie routines never helped with: reminding the whole world what that L.A. session musician remarked when he saw what he was asked to play during the “Freak Out!” sessions:

    “Man, this beatnik has really written some MUSIC here!”

    Please listen carefully to and delve into the “Yellow Shark” CD. It may be the closest audio representation of the real heart and soul of Frank Zappa as anyone is likely to find.

  5. 1. The Yellow Shark
    2. One Size Fits All
    3. Roxy & Elsewhere
    4. The Grand Wazoo
    5. The Best Band…
    6. Hot Rats

    Nada en la historia del Rock and Roll (y de buena parte de la música, no importa la época) puede superar estos discos.

  6. By and far the best way to end a career. Not only are Frank’s compositions done justice, they sound fresh and new–even though they are well known to the ears of most listeners. The Ensemble’s precision, Zappa’s subtle touches, all of it fits together nicely. From ‘Welcome To The United States’ to ‘G-Spot Tornado,’ a fan (and a musician) couldn’t ask for more. This album really pushed me to compose music not for regular people.

  7. Oh, and the fact that it lasted over a year on the classical charts is a testament to the greatness of this album.

  8. Gracias al maestro Frank Vincent Zappa por haberme abierto los ojos a todos los estilos musicales. Este album es una obra maestra, un broche de oro.

    La mejor version de G-Spot Tornado de la historia, el final es brillante en su carrera y su legado no tiene fin.

    ¡Editen Siniester footwear!

  9. Frank Zappa was one of the musical geniuses of the late 20th Century. I know of no other composer who so seamlessly bridged rock, jazz, blues and “serious” (not classical – that was an 18th century art period) music. Early examples of this ability are found on the Hot Rats album and the Music for Electric Violin and Low Budget Orchestra that feature Jon Luc Ponty on fiddle (both from 1969).

    Listening to Yellow Shark shows the depth of his composing and arranging ability, and it is amazing to find so many references to his older works built in to the music. Influences such as Stravinsky, Bartok, Webern etc abound in Yellow Shark, but also FZ himself is distinctively in the music.

    His reputation for requiring exacting standards from his bands over the years paid off. What a musical hero.

  10. Because Frank Zappa strove so heroically towards the end of his life to get this definitive performance of his classical works completed, I think both Frank Zappa fans and modern classical music devotees might do well to attend to the music here. Zappa once said that if he could have made a living as a serious composer, he would have ditched the rock star thing in a trice. That, in my opinion, would have been a pity, but it does give some indication of the ‘serious’ underpinnings of some of Zappa’s musical buffoonery and ribaldry. In previous Zappa excursions into the world of classical music, Zappa often hedged, calling his works ‘entertainments’ and such like. In spite of his irreverent view of classical music tradition, perhaps Zappa was all too conscious of being held to the yardstick of Bach, Beethoven, Schoenberg, and so forth. Here there is no hedging, no nervous wriggling or joking things off. Although Zappa hated the idea of seriousness, this is Zappa’s wholehearted plunge into the world of high seriousness. Don’t worry, Zappa didn’t leave his sense of humour at the door. Nevertheless, I would take some of these pieces very seriously. I am particularly fond of the piece “Ruth is Sleeping”(although I wish someone had tackled the single piano version – come on, people! rise to the challenge!). I wish the CD had kept the string quartet stuff together rather than spreading it out(that is a modern-day prejudice, of course – in ye olden days, they would often play other music and even introduce juggling, magic acts, etc., between the movements of symphonies, etc. – high seriousness didn’t always mean having a rod up one’s behind). I am also very fond of “the Girl with the Magnesium Dress” and “Outrage at Valdez” – I could go on and on here, but I think the whole thing deserves our undivided attention. Zappa’s ear for classical music is very definitely twentieth-century post-tonal – Webern, Stravinsky, Varese, Boulez, etc. As I note elsewhere on the Internet, Zappa’s ear for tonal composers was relatively circumscribed, but I do wonder what he would have made of the eccentric Romantic composer Charles-Valentin Alkan – a wanker at times, but possessed with a very active sense of humour and an equally strong sense of the strange and, like Zappa, fond of posing ‘impossible’ musical challenges for the performer. A pity Zappa didn’t, as far as I know, explore him. Most of the pieces on the Yellow Shark seem to be orchestrated by Frank himself, with important exceptions noted. Classical music fans have long had a prejudice against composers such as Gershwin who let others like Ferde Grofe handle the orchestration. This hasn’t stopped people from listening to Gershwin and, hey, to what extent did Delius let Fenby or whatever his name was handle the orchestrations of his celebrated rear-guard Romantic pieces? The conductor here notes that Zappa had a remarkably synthetic musical imagination, blending various musical influences into an aesthetic whole. I, for one, was strongly drawn to that element in Frank Zappa’s music. While there is plenty to laugh over here, there is also stuff to take in the spirit of high seriousness. Thought-provoking and beautiful. I find it interesting that they supposedly edited out some of the applause for that rendition of “G-Spot Tornado”(and, high seriousness aside, that is just killer here). One time, back in the fifties, the famous British radio comedy program “the Goon Show” had a joke which got so much laughter, the editor edited most of the laughter out and edited the laughter into a show whose jokes weren’t getting as much laughter as they wanted. Maybe they should have edited out some of the applause here and edited the surplus into some act which needed more applause. Seriously, though, I think they should have kept the applause in. I’d have liked to have heard just how long the applause went on. Zappa apparently got a rave review of the performance of some of this material from a notoriously severe Dutch musical critic. An order freak and musical dictator along the lines of Benny Goodman, Zappa must have been very pleased with this. In the final analysis, this music is just beautiful. Enjoy it on whatever level you wish, but never forget the underlying beauty. Some people didn’t think Frank had it in him. For shame! Frank was always himself and no one else. This is as close as we’ll get to getting inside Frank’s brain and moving along with his thoughts. Wonderful with the emphasis on ‘wonder’….Greg Cameron, Surrey, B.C., Canada

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