Music for Music: Inventionis Mater
Inventionis Mater: Zappa Reinvented
By Dan Ursini © 2017
Frank Zappa was a deeply innovative musical thinker whose music drew on rock, jazz, doo wop, blues, lounge, classical—and made it all sound amusing. His songs had sarcastic lyrics sung by Zappa and his band, The Mothers of Invention, with their strange clothes and hard faces. They looked like the nightshift at Bad Luck, Inc.
His music obviously was not the kind that encouraged imitators. After he passed in 1993, his legacy was kept alive by a handful of tribute bands, the best of which is led by his guitarist son, Dweezil:
But a curious rebirth of his music has happened in unexpected quarters. The Italian duo Inventionis Mater is a good example. Pierpaolo Romani on clarinet & bass clarinet and classical guitarist Andrea Pennati demonstrate plenty of ambition, talent, and nerve. These are qualities that at a deep level made Zappa Zappa. They have the right stuff to navigate a significant point of departure.
Inventionis Mater represent a fresh trend among musicians and musicologists toward recognizing Zappa as a serious composer, period. More than ever, his music is attracting musicians at ease with written scores, playing acoustic instruments.
Not everybody likes the Zappa Unplugged approach.
Personally, I am interested in musicians who take Zappa’s music places where it’s never been before. Here is the Inventionis Mater take on a Zappa classic: “Peaches En Regalia,” one of his few wholeheartedly delightful songs:
It is intimate and gentle and good humored.
According to the Inventionis Mater Facebook page, these guys aim to scale down and crystallize Zappa’s dense variegated sound to clarinet/guitar essentials.
As their version of “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” attests, this approach shows tremendous preparation and exceptional arranging talent.
Romani and Pennati perform the deft, nuanced arrangements brilliantly. Their most remarkable accomplishment is a version of “Help I’m A Rock,” an evocation of horrified stupor, based on a single stuck-chord vamp. The Mothers’ rendition ran about five minutes. The Inventionis Mater version runs fifteen minutes. That takes a lot of nerve. It is fully engaging beginning to end.
Inventionis Mater ranks among the best of the groups which are clarifying levels to Zappa’s music nobody understood—except Zappa himself. It’s about time.
Dan Ursini and his wife Valerie live in Oak Park, Illinois. Over the years he has done many kinds of writing. Ursini served as the first resident playwright for the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago (1978-1983); he worked for ten years as a Contributing Editor for Puerto Del Sol magazine ; he wrote performance art pieces presented at Chicago venues as Club Lower Links and Club Dreamerz. Ursini wrote radio theatre presented on NPR in the early 1990s. Throughout all this, he has worked full-time at the Law Library at DePaul University where for a decade he also wrote articles for Dialogue, the DePaul law school’s alumni publication . In addition, he was active for some years as a bass guitarist in various Chicago blues/gospel/funk/lounge configurations. Currently Ursini is working on his latest novel. A play he wrote with Robert Rothman, A Mensch Among Men, a fictionalized account of real-life Jewish Chicago-area gangsters, recently had two staged readings in Chicago.