Review: The Zappatistas at the George Hotel in Lichfield

With musical influences that ranged from Edward Varesse, to jazz, blues and rock music, the compositions of Frank Zappa were always going to be a heady mix of sound, violence and humour – and in closing Lichfield Arts Jazz and Blues festival the Zappatistas delivered this unusual sound world in a series of longer form instrumentals.

Led by the guitarist John Etheridge, the rest of the ensemble consisted of saxophonist Simon Bates, trumpet player Paul Jaysinha, trombonist Paul Taylor, drummer Mark Fletcher, bassist Rob Statham and keyboard player Steve Lodder.

With backgrounds in a number of genres, the talented ensemble were more than able to play Zappa’s demanding back catalogue.

They started the first set with a loud and bombastic Peaches and Regalia, with all seven musicians playing the convoluted themes, while The Great Wazoo increased both velocity and the decibel count.

The comedy of Let’s Make the Water Turn Black allowed Etheridge to show his skills as a vocalist, delivering a good impression of Zappa’s own deadpan delivery.

Things were significantly quieter during the softer, and more reflective noodling of Sofa No 1, and Eat The Question, a song of an unrefined and existential nature finished the first set.

The second set featured the opening long form instrumental Big Swifty, while the comedy song Moving to Montana to be a Dental Floss Tycoon was delivered with the right amount of humour and virtuosity.

The playful instrumental of Harry You’re a Beast and set closer I Am The Slime looked at the dark side of human existence and the encore of We Are Not Alone was a cry for help from any aliens out there.

Zappa was a monumentally prolific composer and performer, releasing more than 60 albums and works that took in both classical themes and more punk rock aesthetics. Although much of the heavy lifting in this concert was carried out by John Etheridge, the six other musicians added a lot, from the solid rhythms of drums and bass, to the rhapsodic, and sometimes downright eerie keyboards, and the richness provided by a full time brass section, this was music of the highest quality delivered by some of the finest musicians playing on the jazz,rock and pop circuits.

It was an explosive, and exhilarating finish to the 2016 Lichfield Blues and Jazz Festival