Cover band is close to the Zappa sound

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October 31, 2002|By Bill Sulon

In the nearly nine years since rock iconoclast Frank Zappa died of prostate cancer, former band members and musically talented fans have tried, with mixed degrees of success, to duplicate the eclectic Zappa concert experience.

Few come as close to pulling it off as Project/Object, a band fronted by Zappa fan and guitarist Andre Cholmondeley.

Formed in 1990, Project/Object has grown from a New Jersey bar band with a small cult following to a viable Zappa cover band that began touring nationwide last year and developing a larger cult following.

Project/Object's current tour, which includes a performance at the Recher Theatre in Towson Saturday, is enhanced by the presence of two former Zappa bandmates, Ike Willis and Napoleon Murphy Brock.

Cholmondeley and his core band members (Glenn Leonard, Robbie Mangano, Jordan Shapiro and Dave Johnsen) do a credible job of duplicating Zappa's intricate instrumentals from the late '60s and early '70s, including "Uncle Meat," "Big Swifty," "Pound for a Brown (on the bus)" and "King Kong." But it is vocal contributions by Willis and Brock that elevate Project/Object beyond Zappa-homage status.

At a Sept. 21 concert in Philadelphia, Brock breezed through "Hungry Freaks Daddy" and "You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here" and "Cheepnis" with surprisingly the same verve that he exhibited during his 1974 tour with Zappa. And Willis, who toured with Zappa from 1978 to 1988, led the band through all of One Size Fits All, an album Zappa, a Baltimore native, released in 1975 and relied upon for set-list material through the '80s.

Project/Object members aren't just a Zappa jukebox, Willis said backstage at the Philadelphia show. "They're great. They're not replicating [Zappa's music]. They're playing it the way it's supposed to be played, playing the arrangements as written, as Frank liked to say."

Cholmondeley, 37, who has the daunting task of trying to reproduce Zappa's unique guitar solos, has performed with other Zappa band members, including Mike Keneally, a guitarist from the 1988 band, and original Mothers of Invention Don Preston, Jimmy Carl Black, Roy Estrada, Billy Mundy and Bunk Gardner.

"The first couple of years, we knew some of these folks, but still hadn't gotten to the level where they would play with us," Cholmondeley said. "We started playing with Ike in 1996, and three years later we started accelerating and meeting lots of other alumni."

Project/Object performs at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Recher Theatre, 512 York Road, Towson. Tickets are $15 for ages 21 and over, $18 for ages 20 and under. Call 410-337-7178.

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