The tributes to Frank Zappa take various forms, these days. The city's Public Art Commission gave a long overdue nod to the Baltimore-born musician (who passed away in 1993) by green-lighting the acquisition of a Zappa statue—which is coming from Lithuania, of all places; Zappa's son, Dweezil, regularly tours the country playing his father's genre-bending compositions; and the Zappa Family Trust has been putting out CDs culled from its extensive archives. Of the recent releases, Wazoo has the highest "wow" factor. Tucked inside a slipcase sporting Dali-esque cover art, the two-disc set features rare material performed by a big band Zappa assembled for a brief tour in 1972. Twenty players strong (including three trumpets, three trombones, piccolo, flute, clarinet, saxophone, bassoon, and marimba), the group veers, swerves, booms, and quiets under the direction of Zappa's baton. This is serious music—despite song titles such as "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary"—by a serious composer, and it's played with moxie and obvious joy. Maybe the next honor for Zappa will be an evening of his orchestral works played by his hometown symphony.
Supreme Balloon (Matador)
It's not everyday an ultra-hip, high concept, electronic music act leaves San Francisco and settles in Baltimore. But Matmos' Drew Daniel and Martin "M.C." Schmidt, who may be best known for their work with Bjork, did exactly that. While it might be tempting to attribute such a move to the city's "best scene" status (see Rolling Stone's "Best Of Rock" issue), that isn't exactly the case. Actually, Daniel accepted a job in the English Department at Johns Hopkins. Hopefully, professorial duties won't get in the way of his music making, because Supreme Balloon is the best Matmos disc since 2001's A Chance To Cut Is a Chance To Cure. Created entirely with synthesizers—no microphones were used—"Polychords," "Exciter Lamp," and "Rainbow Flag" percolate, bubble, and bump with abandon, while the title track is a whimsical epic that unfolds over the course of 24 minutes. It's a most welcome addition to the local music scene.
Matmos will be appearing at Whartscape, which is scheduled for July 17-20.
Caleb Stine & the Brakemen
I'll Head West Again (self-released)
Some artists don't reinvent the wheel so much as they roll it forward, slow and steady, to further a tradition. Stine, a local troubadour who's drawn comparisons to the likes of Woody and Hank, does exactly that on most of these songs. But his duet with Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner on "Come Back Home" hints at something more, something transcendent, that gets far beyond notions of authenticity and form. Like Woody and Hank.
Caleb Stine & the Brakemen are playing on Sunday, July 20 at Artscape on the Metro Gallery Stage from 5:30 to 6:30 pm.