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Frank Zappa And the Curious Case Of Lumpy Gravy by Mike Nessing

Earlier this year, The Zappa Family Trust released Lumpy Money, a comprehensive sonic document of two records Frank Zappa released in 1968. One was called We’re Only In It For The Money, and the second titled Lumpy Gravy. One record (WOIIFTM) was an aural bitch slap towards the flower power generation. It also had some scathing commentary about our nation at that time, in that even though the hippies were only “younger, dirtier versions of their parents” they still didn’t deserve to be beaten, herded into jails and in some cases murdered.

Lumpy Gravy was an entirely different animal. A structured collage of sounds interspersed with spoken word dialogue and musical fragments. These fragments were actually taken from a session recorded more than a year previous. “The Mothers Of Invention” were Zappa’s band and they were signed with MGM records. Capitol Records however, had signed Frank Zappa as a solo artist. Both parties believed that his MGM contract allowed him to work on outside projects as long as he did not sing or play on the finished product. The product was a radical departure from his MGM output. This was a full-blown orchestral piece, using no less than 40 musicians at any one time.

MGM records disagreed with Zappa’s interpretation of his contract and sued Capitol. It would be nearly 18 months before the two parties would settle out of court, with MGM agreeing to purchase “Lumpy Gravy” from Capitol. However, the original 20 minute 47 second piece no longer existed in it’s original form. During the legal hassles, Zappa had dramatically altered the piece by chopping it up, shuffling around the pieces and adding spoken dialogue along with other recordings from his vault. The final result was a masterwork from a tape editing standpoint, with all of it done personally by Frank with splicing tape and razor blades. Musically however, it was entirely different from it’s original aim.

It would be many years before Zappa would be recognized as a composer of “serious music” as opposed to a rock and roll band leader and guitarist. The original Lumpy Gravy sessions however prove in no uncertain terms that this guy was so ahead of the curve back in 1967 that it wasn’t even funny. Restored to it’s original order on the aforementioned box set, it is easily THE highlight on a collection jam packed with highlights.

The music also puts into context the direction Zappa was going in with albums like Uncle Meat and pieces like Peaches En Regalia which would be released on his “Hot Rats” album only a year later. The original Lumpy Gravy suite if you will, contains both the playfulness and exuberance of Peaches. It also features much of the experimental spirit of the Uncle Meat LP. It is most importantly, an important lost nugget in Zappa’s musical history. Previously only available as a low fidelity bootleg, the box set returns those historic sessions to their original glory. Kudos to Gail, Dweezil and the Zappa family trust for doing so, and I cant wait to see what they have in the pipeline for future release.

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