I cannot exactly remember when the idea of this album was born in my mind. What I am sure of is that I always wanted to complete such a project, which was to realize the dream of a vibraphone and marimba tribute to the music of my favorite musician composer, Frank Zappa.
I met Marco Pacassoni about six years ago. I called him because we were looking for a vibraphonist for a tour with the artist Bungaro. We immediately developed a real friendship and when I told him about my idea and my fascination with Ruth Underwood, explaining that for me the best Zappa albums were the ones on which she played, he admitted that he knew only a part of that music, but that he would love to learn more. So I began to feed him tunes to listen to, sharing with him an imaginary track list. When Marco decided to really go for it (about two years ago), his first statement was that it was impossible not to include Peaches en Regalia and The Black Page on the album. That made me very happy because those are two of my favorites, and there was no better way to acknowledge the technical challenges behind this adventure. Marco studied Ionisation by Edgard Varese when he was in Conservatorio Rossini of Pesaro, even before he graduated in percussion at Berklee. It was strange for me that he could know more about Varese than about Zappa! I liked his idea of playing The Black Page alone at the marimba, just adding the beat, as if hearing the footsteps of an imaginary listener turning around. Who could it be?
My very first wish was to include Pink Napkins with Zappa’s guitar solo played at the vibraphone. Marco worked on Steve Vai’s score for guitar to create this incredible adaptation. Linking this to Black Napkins was the plan, as they are actually the same tune – but then Alberto Lombardi came on board. His unique guitar fingerstyle offered us the opportunity to add Sleep Dirt (which has often been also called Sleep Napkins). I thought it would be nice to call this arrangement Sleep, Pink and Black (the Napkins Suite).
From the beginning, when we first spoke of possible musicians, it was very clear to Marco that he needed to invite Lorenzo De Angeli and Enzo Bocciero to this project. Both talented musicians, and members of his quartet, I agreed that they would perfectly fit. Marco and I both wanted a guitarist – and since is a very courageous decision for a tribute to Zappa – I was convinced that Alberto Lombardi, with whom I had worked on another album, was equally technically and artistically perfect for such a project.
I discovered Gregory Hutchinson when he was playing drums with Joshua Redman in 2000. Since then, he’d been for me one of my top-of-mind drummers. He is so incredibly inspired, rich with nuance and musicality. When I called him, I felt like I was excusing myself. “I have to tell you that this will be a tribute to Frank Zappa’s music.” His answer was akin to, “hey man, what’s the problem?” I felt blessed that he accepted the project.
The first arrangements that Marco made was for Blessed Relief, and soon after, Echidna’s Arf. Both are completely revisited, which was the entire purpose of our project; there is no copy and paste here. No doubt that if Zappa was still alive, he too would be permanently rearranging his music – he always did.
Marco also wanted to pay tribute to Ruth. That’s why he wrote For Ruth. I love it, and hope one day she can listen to it.
The Zappa Songbook represents more than half of the music that he published. It would have been illogical not to include at least a couple of songs. Alberto is actually an accomplished singer, having recorded two albums. The Idiot Bastard Son is one of his favorites, and this selection was met with much enthusiasm by Marco because we’d had this particular tune on our shortlist.
I also had in mind to feature Petra Magoni on this album. She is one of my favorite Italian voices, and in my opinion, Petra’s tone is perfect for Zappa music. She is not merely rock, pop, jazz or classic, but rather so versatile that she can perform all genres. It is for this reason that she is an inimitable talent. She and I met and talked about the meaning of the lyrics of Planet of the Baritone Women. Well… meanwhile in Wall Street…
Then I proposed this absolutely free improvisation with Marco’s marimba in the middle of the tune, and the result has made me exquisitely happy. It all happened here.
We had three days to record the album. At the end of the second day, we were ahead of schedule, so we decided to record one more tune – Stolen Moments – the day after. We all adored the cover that Zappa did on Broadway the Hard Way. Well, that third and last day did not run as smoothly as we had hoped, and had little time left. However, we still recorded the tune, even with only minimal rehearsal of a few bars. The version you’ll hear is Take one, with no edit.
There are no words to thank Marco, Alberto, Enzo, Lorenzo, Greg and Petra.
What they have given to the album is awesome.
Music is the best.
Baltimore, 19 April 2018
Album concept by Pierre Ruiz and Marco Pacassoni
Executive Producer: Pierre Ruiz for Esordisco
Produced and mixed by Alberto Lombardi
All songs arranged by Marco Pacassoni
“Sleep, Pink and Black (the napkins suite)” by Alberto Lombardi
Vocal arrangement of “Planet of baritone women” by Petra Magoni
MARCO PACASSONI GROUP
Marco Pacassoni: vibraphone and marimba
Alberto Lombardi: electric, acoustic and classical guitars
Enzo Bocciero: piano and keyboards
Lorenzo De Angeli: bass
Gregory Hutchinson: drums
Special Guest: Petra Magoni on “Planet of the Baritone Women”