Zappa’s broad understanding of various genres by the mid to late sixties made for a spate of tongue in cheek hippie chastisements. Concurrently, though, the band leader’s interest in composing serious music with a collective of classically trained players presented itself as an engaging offer. Collecting what was surely the most talented lot possible, Zappa even wrangled a few players from the Wrecking Crew, then instrumentalists used on a huge number of pop recordings dating to the period.
The result was 1967’s Lumpy Gravy, a mélange of classical music composition, rock instrumentation and enough music concrete asides to stuff up a coke head’s nose. The record length composition is broken into two tracks even as each of those are comprised of countless miniatures, not always sensibly linked together. But the scatter shot nature of Lumpy Gravy’s progression is what makes it such a bizarrely engaging listen – it’s something like a tripped out radio play without a consistent narrator or characters that make any sort of sense.
Lumpy Gravy’s first side doesn’t include too much rock stuff – a portion of some Mother’s blues jam gets a bit of time. Odd compositions with keyboard abound. Opening the second half of the album, though, is a pair of wasters having some sort of intelligible conversation. A few other’s crop up along the way. So does a good amount of tape manipulation.
By eight minute mark, though, a rock ensemble kicks in. There’s a jaunty little beat accompanied by a horn section, moving in and out of abrupt changes in the music’s tenor. Some of the shifts are clearly tape edits. But the jarring feel seems intentional.
A bit later on, closing the disc out, is two minutes of Zappa styled beach music. The melody’s all sugar and the drums are just as crisp. It’s a quick look back at the preceding era of rock and or roll. And a good one. Lumpy Gravy probably isn’t for newcomers to Zappa’s catalog – or even just passable fans. The disc’s difficult to get through at points, but no less rewarding for the hassle it presents at points.