Jean-Luc Ponty – King Kong – Plays The Music Of Frank Zappa (1970)

FrontCover1King Kong: Jean-Luc Ponty Plays the Music of Frank Zappa (or simply King Kong) is an album by French jazz fusion artist Jean-Luc Ponty first released in 1970 on Liberty Records’ World Pacific Records subsidiary label and later released on Blue Note. The album contains numerous selections Zappa had previously recorded either with the Mothers of Invention or under his own name, including:

“King Kong”, originally included on the Mothers’ 1969 album Uncle Meat
“Idiot Bastard Son”, from the Mothers’ 1968 album We’re Only in It for the Money
“Twenty Small Cigars”, from Zappa’s 1970 album Chunga’s Revenge
“America Drinks and Goes Home”, from the Mothers’ 1967 album Absolutely Free

In addition, the track “Music For Electric Violin And Low Budget Orchestra” includes the themes from “Duke of Prunes”, from Absolutely Free, and “Pound for a Brown”, from Uncle Meat.[3] Zappa excised those themes, and everything that followed them, when he later recorded the piece himself under the title “Revised Music For Guitar And Low-Budget Orchestra”, which was first released on his 1978 album Studio Tan.

George Duke, who would eventually join Zappa and Ponty in the Mothers, is featured on piano on all tracks. Ernie Watts is featured on alto and tenor saxophone on all tracks except for “Music for Violin and Low Budget Orchestra”. Zappa himself plays guitar on one selection, and Mothers members Ian Underwood (tenor sax) and Art Tripp (drums) contribute to the album as well.

PontyZappa01Jean-Luc Ponty + Frank Zappa

Rolling Stone’s Bob Palmer called it “one of the most rewarding and boundary-obliterating collaborations” and said “Zappa, donning his Jazz Composer – Arranger suit, emerges as a first-rate practitioner of the art: his previous lack of acceptance by the jazz community is probably due to the same bizarre touches that endear him to his younger audiences. Here he is reminiscent of Charles Mingus, not musically (except for the Mingus-like melody and violin-tenor voicing of “Twenty Small Cigars”) but in the way he examines and finds new expressive possibilities in his earlier pieces, and combines them with new music that refers to wide areas of experience without centring in any one stylistic bag.” (by wikipedia)

PontyZappa02Not just an album of interpretations, King Kong: Jean-Luc Ponty Plays the Music of Frank Zappa was an active collaboration; Frank Zappa arranged all of the selections, played guitar on one, and contributed a new, nearly 20-minute orchestral composition for the occasion. Made in the wake of Ponty’s appearance on Zappa’s jazz-rock masterpiece Hot Rats, these 1969 recordings were significant developments in both musicians’ careers. In terms of jazz-rock fusion, Zappa was one of the few musicians from the rock side of the equation who captured the complexity — not just the feel — of jazz, and this project was an indicator of his growing credibility as a composer. For Ponty’s part, King Kong marked the first time he had recorded as a leader in a fusion-oriented milieu (though Zappa’s brand of experimentalism didn’t really foreshadow Ponty’s own subsequent work). Of the repertoire, three of the six pieces had previously been recorded by the Mothers of Invention, and “Twenty Small Cigars” soon would be. Ponty writes a Zappa-esque theme on his lone original “How Would You Like to Have a Head Like That,” where Zappa contributes a nasty guitar solo. The centerpiece, though, is obviously “Music for Electric Violin and Low Budget Orchestra,” a new multi-sectioned composition that draws as much from modern classical music as jazz or rock. It’s a showcase for Zappa’s love of blurring genres and Ponty’s versatility in handling everything from lovely, simple melodies to creepy dissonance, standard jazz improvisation to avant-garde, nearly free group passages. In the end, Zappa’s personality comes through a little more clearly (his compositional style pretty much ensures it), but King Kong firmly established Ponty as a risk-taker and a strikingly original new voice for jazz violin. (by Steve Huey)

Harold Bemko (cello)
Donald Christlieb (bassoon)
Gene Cipriano (oboe, english horn)
Vincent DeRosa (french horn, descant)
George Duke (piano)
Gene Estes (vibraphone, percussion)
Wilton Felder (bass)
John Guerin (drums)
Arthur Maebe (french horn, tuben)
Jonathan Meyer (flute)
Buell Neidlinger (bass)
Jean-Luc Ponty (violin, baritone violectra)
Milton Thomas (viola)
Art Tripp (drums)
Ian Underwood (saxophone)
Ernie Watts (saxophone)
Frank Zappa (guitar)

01. King Kong (Zappa) 4-54
02. Idiot Bastard Son (Zappa) 4-00
03. Twenty Small Cigars (Zappa) 5.35
04. How Would You Like To Have A Head Like That (Ponty) 7.14
05. Music For Electric Violin And Low-Budget Orchestra (Zappa) 19.20
06. America Drinks And Goes Home (Zappa) 2-39