Napoleon Murphy Brock & Project/Object
In New York

By Martin Longley

There are two meaningful Frank Zappa cover bands operating In the UK, each of them excellent in their differing ways. But, as you might expect, The Muffin Men and Zappatistas have their equivalent outfits over in the States, and surely the best of these must be Project/Object, formed in New Jersey, back at the beginning of the 1990s. Whereas Liverpool's Muffin Men have toured regularly with original Mothers Of Invention drummer Jimmy Carl Black (the Zappatistas keep themselves to themselves), Project/Object have magnified this tendency through collaborations with around a dozen Zappa alumni. Their latest spate of dates find them accompanied by singer, saxophonist and flautist Napoleon Murphy Brock, whose key period with Zappa was in the middle 1970s.

Brock has been appearing on the Zappa Plays Zappa tour, fronted by Frank's offspring Dweezil. Project/Object's core five-piece line-up is customarily augmented by other guest players, as was the case for this barnstormer showing at The Lion's Den in Greenwich Village. Andre Cholmondeley plays the FZ role, but isn't tempted into direct reproduction on either the guitaring or vocal fronts. Conversely, the rest of the band have no trouble negotiating the complex high-speed chases of Zappa's pieces, turning in a wondrous glut of authentic mimicry, playing as if the music is freshly inked, so vital is their delivery.

I can't believe the scene as I walk into The Lion's Den. It's the archetypal rock joint, and the band have only been onstage for fifteen minutes, but the crowd is already deep in their grip, a motley bunch in terms of ages, sexes and clans, getting off on the convoluted headbang serialism like it's pop music, which ultimately it is, and Zappa kinda perversely hoped it would end up so. Folks are dancing to the avant garde, and if you've just arrived from a John Cage gig around the corner in Washington Square, this is going to be one of your weirdest evenings ever.

I can't believe this fucking band! Clever contortions, but brutally performed, noodly twists, but heeled in the testes, authentic Zappa reproducing, but including fresh improvisation, and the man's solos, delivered on a fucking electric mandolin, fer chrissakes! Well, on a few numbers, anyway. Cholmodeley takes most of the FZ solos on conventional guitar. Moog maniac Eric Svalgard stares into the face of oblivion, and drummer Eric Slick is the absolute foundation here, a powerhouse of accelerated intricacy. And Napoleon Murphy Brock? He's not around for every number, rationing his appearances out, but when he's there he's singing his high soul croon, or blowing fruitily R'n'B horn, or cool flute jazz-waft.

The Sheik Yerbouti album is clearly a favourite, with tasty versions of Broken Hearts Are For Assholes, Jones Crusher and (best of all) City Of Tiny Lites. Unlike the UK combos, Project/Object are more concerned with Zappa's later, more commercial period. There's not much in the way of early Mothers material here, or even the extended jazzier instrumentals that the Zappatistas enjoy so much. So, there's a neat reading of Tinseltown Rebellion, for instance. But, then it's back to the '70s, for I'm The Slime and Brock's finest moment, Inca Roads. The band play two sets, and the crowd throw themselves deeper and deeper into the music. There's a perfect co-existence of sheer absurdist fun and extreme acrobatic improvisation, and rarely do the four spheres of these, the band and the audience coincide so completely into a beautiful grave-robbing frenzy that's at once nostalgic and supremely of-the-moment.
Contributors retain the copyright to their own contributions. Everything else is copyright © Spannered 2015.
Please do not copy whole articles: instead, copy a bit and link to the rest. Thanks!