Although I never considered Frank Zappa a Jazz artist, this is the third album I’ve heard in which big bands have reprised his music. The first one I didn’t care much for, the second I liked, and I’m saddened to report that this one, by Sweden’s talented Bohuslän Big Band, rests squarely in the former class. I know they must have had their reasons for launching this ship, but I found the waters choppy and voyage wearisome — an altogether predictable reaction from one whose passion for big bands begins with Basie, Herman and Kenton and doesn’t extend even as far as Gil Evans, Gunther Schuller or their disciples. The failure of this album to take off is especially unsettling, because, as we indicated, Bohuslän is a topnotch ensemble with much to recommend it, and a number of its albums ( A Perfect Match, The Blue Pearl, One Poem One Painting
, for example) have been warmly received within these precincts. So what went wrong? First, there are the vocals by Mia Kempff. Not that Kempff doesn’t give it his best shot; he does (singing in every range from airy tenor to screeching falsetto). But Zappa’s music is much more palatable if one doesn’t have to cope with his abstruse lyrics. Sorry, but that’s the way we see it. And as Kempff sings on seven of the twelve tracks, that places an imposing obstacle in the way of an auspicious result. Second, and even more important, Bohuslän seems to center its concern on the “rockier” aspects of Zappa’s music to the detriment of Jazz, with guitarist (and arranger) Patrik Ehmborg most often in the forefront when it’s time to solo. I certainly bear no malice toward a mellow guitar, but that’s assuredly not Ehmborg’s style. Third, Zappa’s music, no matter one’s opinion of it, can
be made to swing; Ed Palermo’s Big Band proved that on its splendid CD, “Plays the Music of Frank Zappa“ (Astor Place 4005). That’s the one I admired, as Palermo took Zappa’s rock / pop concepts and lodged them firmly within a Jazz framework. It sounds here as though Bohuslän is content to focus on Zappa as rock composer, which is the easier road to travel but by no means the most rewarding. In fact, disappointing is the word that springs most readily to mind. On the other hand, Zappa's many fans may find Bohuslän 's interpretations thoroughly charming.
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Personnel: Lennart Grahn, Staffan Svensson, Jan Eliasson, trumpet, flugelhorn; Robin Rydqvist, trumpet, flugelhorn, alto horn; Bengt