It has been just about ten years since we lost Frank Zappa to prostate cancer, and every now and again I come across another pretender to his throne of abstraction, absurdity and even-handed ability to (a) mix and (b) utterly demolish every kind of music out there. Some do approach the original: Doctor Nerve, Mike Keneally, and Graham Connah's Sour Note Seven come to mind. Certainly Paul Minotto's Prime Time Sublime Community Orchestra -- wretched majesty, skinny legs, clown suits and all -- deserve addition to this pantheon. That's because none of the above pretenders (that's a compliment here) aped Frank Z. and his Mothers; they took Zappa's eclectic ellipses and tried to make something new of them. Prime Time Sublime, a group of largely amateur musicians (string section, sitar, synths, guitars, tuba, marimbas, clarinets, saxophones... sorry to say only Minotto is credited here), career and swoop blithely through a dizzying array of arrangements which can turn on a dime from (as in "Invocation and Fanfare of the Tahitian Garbage Fairies" - what did I tell you?) an outrageous cop from one of the cloudlike sections of Ornette Coleman's SKIES OF AMERICA to a 4-bar James Brown tribute and back again. Very high "What The Hell Are They Doing, And Are We Sure It's Legal?" quotient here. Or in "Fellini's Pickup Truck" (somewhere he is smiling), while the orchestra are carefully mowing down a country ballad with the orchestral equivalent of an Apache gunship, somebody's cell phone starts to ring. I immediately turned around to see who I was supposed to deck with a right cross, only to be forcibly reminded I was alone in my listening room. It was somebody on the CD! As we used to say when I was growing up... "PSYCHE!!!" Or "Ha, Ha, Fooled You" for those of our readers who did not grow up in Staten Island before they built The Bridge. No, not the one Sonny Rollins used to practice on. See, the manic glee to be heard throughout this fine CD is contagious! "Invocation" also features a lengthy central section with scattered tones flung about in the clarinets, massed plucked cellos, "midget" voices, and an elegiac closing chorale worthy of the late British Jazz composer Alan Gowen. That's another consideration: if you liked Gowen's mid-1970s band National Health, ( ) will tickle your fancy as well.
Elsewhere, "Holy War In Your Pants" opens with a grand seesawing fanfare worthy of prefacing John Adams' 1985 foxtrot-you-can't-foxtrot-to "The Chairman Dances" after which the strings and horns slowly collapse during a stream-of-consciousness drum kit monologue. Sonorities are often quite adventurous, recalling those of Hindemith, Stravinskyís Russian-era music, and middle period Prokofiev. "Pomp & Vindaloo" is also great fun, some glowing writing for the string section over pulsing marimba and analog synthesizers. A hurdy-gurdy is dropped down the stairs, with diverting results (to say nothing of funereal sitar under meditative Arp). And we haven't even got to "A Day at the Mall" or "Erectile Cognitive Bop Bits." But I'm too busy laughing, I can't go on. Prime Time Sublime are as good as their name, and if different music of great charm and the wildest possible mood swings are your idea of a good time, you mustn't miss this. As Zappa used to say: "They really put the 'eyebrows' on it that time!"
by Ken Egbert
Jazz Now Interactive
Copyright Jazz Now, May 2003 issue, all rights reserved