Being an original Mother of Invention is automatic qualification for legend status, but pianist/synthist Don Preston's post-Zappa career is just as fascinating. He has played with iconic jazz composers as varied as Carla Bley and John Carter, scored low-budget horror films and created music for computer games. So the opportunity to hear him ruminate in a trio setting on Transformation, revisiting choice moments of past weirdness and glory, as well as dig into original works and unlikely standards, is not to be missed.
Zappa zealots may be left wanting, as Preston tackles only "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue," yet in stripping the piece down to a desultory waltz that vacillates between a floating feel and a trenchant angularity, Preston taps an ennui that Zappa obscured with flip artiness. Bley and Carter fans fare better, with Preston interpreting two compositions by each. Preston recasts the clarinetist's "Ode to the Flower Maiden" (Preston supplied synth chiaroscuro on Carter's '88 hatART recording of the delicate composition), employing riveting octaves and rippling arpeggios to give the theme a new dramatic slant. The title tune is a fine example of how Carter atomized bebop at a thematic level while retaining its rhythmic spirit, a balancing act Preston extrapolates in a solo of quicksilver runs and bursting clusters. Preston's bracing readings of two of Bley's challenging "Walking Batteriewoman" and "The Donkey" (not to be confused with "Wrong Key Donkey") should prompt a reassessment by those who consider the composer to be little more than a quipster.
The album is rounded out by a multiperspective take on Cole Porter's "I Love You" and originals that span the Annette Peacocklike "The Lind Sonata" and the freely improvised "Prehistoric Eons," which is augmented by radio telescope recordings of deep space sounds. The range of program is somewhat camouflaged by the seamless interplay of Preston, bassist Joel Hamilton and drummer Alex Cline. They possess a cohesion borne of fluidity that is reminiscent of Paul Bley's '60s trios, but they have their own crisp edge. It is a high common denominator for such a diverse program.