Friday, August 31, 2012

FZ:OZ

FZ:OZ
An uncut Frank Zappa concert -- YAY! I want more of these in the near future!

Many Zappa fans have understandably wondered why the first Vaulternative release had to be a concert from THIS particular obscure Zappa tour (winter '76), rather than something like 1972's Petit Wazoo tour, or the Halloween '78 blowout in New York, for instance. Unlike those fans, I was happy to see that the concert was from the depths of Zappa obscurity. I really don't mind them going in after the most deeply buried dusty, forgotten bins first.

Despite the small band (Zappa, Bozzio, Brock, Estrada, and Lewis) I expected the concert to be very good, and I think the disc delivers a great show. The sound is a bit lackluster. It seems that there's not enough low end. Bozzio's drums sound kind of compressed or something. So, not the highest marks for sound fidelity. Also, the disc edits in a couple of bits of audience recordings when the "official" reel was being changed. It doesn't sound great when this happens, but I do appreciate the fact that they kept the entire recording intact from one, and only one, concert. Frank would never have done this...I'm pleased that his family is doing it.

Now for the show. Perhaps the strongest aspect of it is Frank's guitar playing, both lead and rhythm. He was in his ascent towards (actually beyond) guitar greatness at this time. On this tour, Frank used many different amp/effect settings with musically tasteful results. He plays what must be 30+ minutes of guitar solos on this disc...and they are for the most part, pretty inspired, not just noodling for the sake of it. High points include Flithy Habits, Advance Romance, and Zoot Allures.

The rest of the band is great too, possibly with the exception of Andre Lewis on keyboards. His playing is actually interesting at first, again with lots of creative 1970's effects use, but his style - especially in his long solos - gets boring. He tended to play what sounds like single-handed solos with little use of chords. And Frank gives him a few solos that go on and on and on... Anyway, I think Nappy does a swell job on vocals and sax. Terry's drums are not at their peak, but it is him, and that's a darn good thing. And the big surprise...Roy Estrada seems to groove really well on bass. He gels with Terry too. Zappa obviously employed him for his bass playing, and not for a gimmick.

The setlist is a nice mixed bag of new and old. For the most part, not only are the song choices good, but they are played as well by this band as they would be by most other bigger-better Zappa bands. Some will disagree, and just not get past the thinner sound of this ensemble. I think their enthusiasm makes up for most of the lacking texture.

I do like the rather upbeat version of The Torture Never Stops (with a guest Aussie harmonicist), although it's very different from the slow brooding studio version. The Freak Out and We're Only in it for the Money medlaye are both fabulous, especially the latter. There is also the previously unreleased Kaiser Rolls. It's no big deal, but it appears again at the end of the CD from a practice recording of the song, (Du Jour). This "Du Jour" practice version is MUCH better, as it's played at a brisker pace, and Frank's guitar playing throughout is real snappy and creative.

I welcome another uncut concert from the Zappa vaults. C'mon Dweezil, "Bring 'em on!"

Halloween

Halloween
OK. first, kudos to the Zappa Family for getting this thing out on time, unlike FZ:OZ 2002. The song selection is great except for the fact that I would've either removed the "Yellow Snow" excerpt or put the whole thing in. Now what's the deal with this sound??? I hear more audience noise than anything else in this recording on both mixes, stereo and surround. Vinnie's drums sound great, as does Frank's guitar in most places, but where are the keyboards, percussion and clarity in the vocals? We know that these tapes have great audio on them, listen to "Little Rubber Girl" on YCDTOSA Vol.4, and both "Thirteen" and "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance" from YCDTOSA Vol.6, as well as the original single mix of "Ancient Armaments", all recordings from these same shows, and using the same source tapes. The music is UP FRONT. Joe Chicarelli, who recorded this stuff as well as engineered most of JOE'S GARAGE, turns in a disappointing mix. To be honest, bootleg recordings of these shows sound better. On the upside, the two videos are great(especially the SNL performance - I want more!) and the "Black Napkins/Deathless Horsie" solo is heart stopping in it's brilliance. Too bad Frank isn't around to mix this performance himself. Bring back Spence Chrislu - he has a feel for FZ's music. fter listening to this disc, I got the feeling that DTS may have given Dweezil and Joe Travers a warning to "Keep it simple or we won't put it out." For a surround sound release the content is rather tame. While it's nice to have some vocal numbers like magic fingers and Dancin Fool, Denny Walley just doesn't have the vocal power. Recent hire Ike willis is absent for these shows and is sorely missed. It would have been great to hear "Thirteen" or "Take your clothes off when you dance" from YCDTOSA #6 mixed in surround sound. The one moment of surround sound trickery is vinnie colaiuta's drum solo "zeets" which spins around from speaker to speaker. Zeets is the track which will make you new friends or send old ones running. The tour de force of this album is the final track "Black Napkins" which has some great moments of Improvisation between Frank and his friend L Shankar on violin.
The overall sound is stunning. Both the DVD Audio and DTS tracks have a teeth rattling but clean low end that you just can't get on a CD. There is virtually no tape hiss either. If you have a good surround system this is essential for your collection.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Joe's Corsage

Joe's Corsage
This release is of interest to Zappa fans because it documents the Mothers at an early stage of their development. At this stage the Mothers sound like a garage band from the period (a good one), without the avant-guarde elements that characterized their music by the time of their first album. What is, however, already in place, is the satirical lyrical content

These are demos recorded in 1964 & and 1965. It's mostly songs that would appear on "Freak Out", "Cruising with Ruben and the Jets", or "Absolutely Free". There's also a couple of "standards" cover songs that might have been typical for the day ("Hitchhike" by Marvin Gaye). Most of the songs that would appear on their early albums are in recognizable forms. The sound of these songs is quite different from the later LP versions. They are rougher in a good way. Part of the roughness may be because they are demos, and partly because of the production, which gives the guitar a louder more abrasive sound, and is less reverb-soaked that was the norm in the mid-late 1960's production.

"Plastic People" is played basically to the tune of "Louie Louie" (facetiously so), and is similar to the live version found on one of the "You Can't Do That Onstage Anymore" volumes. It demonstrates how the song is a mutant cousin of the earlier bar-band standard. "Wedding Dress Song/Handsome Cabin Boy" are sea shanties that have previously appeared in different form on Lost Episodes, but this version is more rock-oriented. Perhaps the most interesting "Conceptual Continuity Clue" for hardcore Zappa freaks is ""I'm So Happy I Could Cry", which is an early version of "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance" / closing theme of "Lumpy Gravy", but with different lyrics, sung by Frank Zappa (a fairly standard love long).

The album also includes outtakes of an interview from a later period, in which Zappa discusses his musical influences and the formation of the Mothers band.

In short, this release wouldn't make much sense as someone's introduction to Zappa's music, but fans will appreciate this look into an earlier stage of Zappa's musical development, and it is an enjoyable album. It is very short, but it is what it is, and it's pretty good. if you are of Frank Zappa, especially EARLY Mothers Of Invention music, then you have to get this CD. It is a series of demo tapes made in 1964-65, before they recorded and released Freak Out!. Interestingly enough, the other guitar player on the first few cuts is Henry Vestine, who had been hired to play guitar with the Mothers but quit 'cause he didn't like the music, he went on to become the guitar player in Canned Heat (and was replaced by Elliot Ingber). The other musicians are Ray Collins (vocals), Roy Estrada (bass), and Jimmy Carl Black (drums). These are early versions of songs that became standards for the Mothers (Motherly Love, Plastic People, I Ain't Got No Heart, How Could I Be Such A Fool?, Anyway The Wind Blows, Go Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulder), and also included is a version of Marvin Gaye's "Hitch Hike" (sung by Ray Collins, and the oldie "My Babe". There is also a song called "I'm So Happy I Could Cry", which is the song "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance" with different lyrics, and also some tape of Frank Zappa being interviewed. I love this CD, unfortunately it is only 35 minutes long, wish it could have had more stuff on it

Have I offended someone?

Have I offended someone?
This is a great cd! Most of the tracks have either been remixed, remastered, edited or totally reconstructed by FZ himself. Dumb All Over is a live never before released gem with a great FZ guitar solo! The sound is fabulous. Zappa perfected a genre that could be called song-stos or short stories in song, using the rhapsodic techniques he had developed. The interest of the listener is kept through myriad changes in the drum meters, riffs, fills, background vocals, special effects, unusual chord sequences, swift tranformations in mood and tone, and the like. It's a powerful genre, and Zappa's researches point out a new direction for American operatic form. There is something in this collection to offend everyone - ..., Jewishes princesses, feminists, Christains, satanists, record executives, the Musicians union, young women from the San Fernando Valley, partisans of the Parisian toilet kiosk, insecure young men who like to dance in clubs, Jimi Hendrix fans, and punkers with chops, to mention a few. Satirical anthropology, pure and simple.  Frank Zappa was the Howard Stern of music before there was a Howard Stern. Many years later, after giving this material another listen, it's either that I'm mostly desensitized to these adolescent provocations of societies B.S. or I just grew up. At least Zappa's tauntings always done with humor and without self importance. Now Playboys seem tame and harmless comparatively, as does Frank Zappa. So if you want to occasionally regress to a time in your life when all you could do is hang out with friends and joke and brag about sex because none of you were getting any. This album has it's place.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Joe's XMASage

Joe's XMASage
Joe's Xmasage is a compilation album featuring music by Frank Zappa recorded in 1963, posthumously released in December, 2005. It is the third in a series of releases put together by archivist Joe Travers which started with Joe's Corsage (2004). There is a lot of dialog in this recording, "The Purse" is an 11 minute discussion about a teenagers purse contents.
Track listing

All tracks by Frank Zappa.

    1-"Mormon Xmas Dance Report" - 1:51
    2-"Prelude to "The Purse" - 2:24
    3-"Mr. Clean" (Alternate Mix) - 2:04
    4-"Why Don'tcha Do Me Right?" - 5:01
    5-"The Muthers/Power Trio" - 3:15
    6-"The Purse" - 11:38
    7-"The Moon Will Never Be the Same" - 1:10
    8-"GTR Trio" - 11:21
    9-"Suckit Rockit" - 4:11
    10-"Mousie's First Xmas" - 0:56
    11-"The Uncle Frankie Show" - 11:42


Zappa Plays Zappa

Zappa Plays Zappa
This will get you addicted to the music of Frank Zappa. Dweezil is the real deal; he plays guitar like no one around right now!!! Saw him 3times last week (including Halloween), 7 times in last 3 years - and he rocks!!!

This CD is just great, the song selections are excellent - but - don't buy it!!! DO NOT BUY THIS CD!!! Find the Zappa Plays Zappa Fan Pack - so you don't get this nice selection, you get the entire concert (2 DVDs and 3 CDs). There is so much AMAZING stuff in that concert it should not be missed buying this scaled-down version. If you are only going to buy a single-CD, then ok, buy this one, but you'll be back for the other, I promise.

Dweezil rips up FZ music in "like Frank", he does not try "to be Frank", he is Dweezil, and sometimes I think he is even a better guitarist than Frank; hard to believe. He plays it "like Frank" so you won't ever feel like you are just hearing a great cover band - he truly covers the music, the small things others would overlook and never know about. Just can't be explained, not in words anyway.

Then comes the rest of the band - Joe on drums, forget it, he just cooks; Sheila on sax - WOW!!!!; Billy on the percussion, what a nice guy, and can he hit those things; Aaron on keyboards, and all sorts of stuff, to much fun; Jamie on rythm guitar - forget him, he could be fronting Led Zeppelin he is so good; and Pete on bass, when he does his solo and plays that thing like a 6string guitar your mouth will hang open. Napolean Murphy Brock - can't say enough about him (Ray White tours now with Dweezil, and is absolutely incredible as Napolean is). The CD also has some stuff with Steve Vai and Terry Bozio ... Vai on Zomby Woof - WOWWWWWWWWWWWWWW, that's why you want the DVD, you have to see him to really appreciate what he's playing, doing.

And as if that weren't enough, Dweezil brings in Steve Vai, the man who actually taught him to play guitar (dad was too busy I guess, and didn't want to "work" while with family). As you can imagine, much of this generous show's second half is devoted to some scorching guitar battles, particularly on "Montana", "Zomby Woof" and "Trouble Every Day". Earlier on, we are treated to a stunning improv section in "Pound for a Brown", where Dweezil sheds his guitar and conducts the band with a series of secret hand signals. This is one of the more magical moments when you KNOW you're witnessing a genuine Zappa concert.

Don't approach this video expecting a sort of nostalgic experience.... unless you define "nostalgia" as a time in the past, where artists had the unmitigated audacity to intrude upon rock audiences with truly exciting, challenging, thought-provoking and perversely fun music. It's still there, and will continue to be so, as Dweezil Zappa has stated his intention to continue the legacy of his extraordinary father's music.... minus the Winstons, of course. DZ may not have the same edge as FZ did, though this could work in favor of the music, which may have not enjoyed sufficient reach in the past due to how many felt about Frank's personality. Whatever. To paraphrase the composer (who refuses to die): Zappa isn't dead, he just smells younger.

Old Masters III

Old Masters III

The third volume of Frank Zappa's box set LP reissues of his early recordings contains eight albums originally released between 1972 and 1976 -- Waka/Jawaka, The Grand Wazoo, Over-Nite Sensation, Apostrophe', Roxy & Elsewhere, One Size Fits All, Bongo Fury, and Zoot Allures -- thus completing Zappa's own reprints of the Warner Bros. Records material (with the exception of Zappa In New York, Sleep Dirt, Studio Tan, and Orchestral Favorites, which were released by Barking Pumpkin subsequently on CD). The period found him ranging from the broad orchestral experiments of The Grand Wazoo to the more commercial pop-rock of Over-Nite Sensation and contains some of his most popular recordings.

The Old Masters Box III

    Waka/Jawaka
    The Grand Wazoo
    Over-Nite Sensation
    Apostrophe (')
    Roxy & Elsewhere
    One Size Fits All
    Bongo Fury
    Zoot Allures

Does Humor Belong In Music?

Does Humor Belong in Music?

Originally released only in Europe without permission, Does Humor Belong In Music? was reworked by Zappa and released with much more material on CD. A snapshot of Zappa's 1984 band, this live album showcases the pared-down group's energy and ability on a set of concert favorites (with a few special oddities thrown in for good measure). The opening version of the instrumental "Zoot Allures" is one of the best takes on that song released on CD, and the closing "Whippin' Post" finds Zappa trading guitar licks with his son Dweezil. Often overshadowed by some of his other touring ensembles, this group--featuring Chad Wackerman, Scott Thunes, Bobby Martin, Allan Zavod and the dual frontmen of Ike Willis and Ray White-is distinctive and talented, and their performances on songs like "Let's Move to Cleveland" and "What's New in Baltimore" are essential to any Zappa collection.  The liner notes would tell you that Frank Zappa pieced "Does Humor Belong In Music?" from miles of tapes across his 1984 tour; guitar solo from Philly, vocal from London. This approach removes some of the LP's cohesion, but brings every good performance from Zappa's band (one of his best)to the fore.

Fans of Zappa's guitar playing and razor-sharp jazz/fusion/progressive rock have much to enjoy here. "Let's Move To Baltimore," and "Hot Plate Heaven" feature fiery guitar solos and a rhythm section (including drummer Chad Wackerman, who turns in outstanding work throughout) which keeps up with FZ's experiments. Son Dweezil turns in some fine blues guitar on "Whippin' Post," but his vocal, and the end result, is a too speedy and showy against the Allmans' pain-wracked original.

Old Masters II


Old Masters II
This is a box set containing seven LPs by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention originally released between 1969 and 1972 -- Uncle Meat, Hot Rats, Burnt Weeny Sandwich, Weasels Ripped My Flesh, Chunga's Revenge, Fillmore East--June 1971, and Just Another Band From L.A.-- plus a "Mystery Disc" of previously unreleased material from the period. As such, it continues the story begun in The Old Masters, Box One bringing Frank Zappa up to the point that he had been injured by a fall from the stage in 1971 and broken up the second edition of the Mothers of Invention.


The Old Masters Box II

    Uncle Meat
    Hot Rats
    Burnt Weeny Sandwich
    Weasels Ripped My Flesh
    Chunga's Revenge
    Fillmore East, June 1971
    Just Another Band From L.A.
    Mystery Disc

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Feeding the Monkies at Ma Maison

Feeding the Monkies at Ma Maison
If you have the Civilization Phase III box then you have heard smaller versions of 2 of the 5 pieces. I found that the completely new pieces (3 of them) are spectacular as they are quite different in terms of composition and texture to the ones found in, say, Jazz from Hell or The Mothers of Prevention. These 3 pieces are for me the real reason anyone interested in what Zappa was doing with the syn clavier should get this. Executed by Frank Zappa on his Synclavier at UMRK c. 1986, it was originally intended as a vinyl release. It appears to be the missing link between Jazz from Hell (1986) and Civilization, Phaze III (1994) [Official Release #90]. 28 seconds of the track "Worms From Hell" first appeared as opening title music for the Video From Hell VHS release in 1987. "Worms From Hell" is the full-length version of the music used in the opening credit of the 1987 Honker Home Video release "Video From Hell". "Feeding The Monkies At Ma Maison" and "Samba Funk" are previously unreleased. All tracks on this CD were probably recorded in 1986.

Old Masters I

Old Masters Box I
The Old Masters Box One is a Vinyl Record box set by Frank Zappa, the first in a series. Originally five box sets were planned, but only three were issued. The first box set consisted of the first five albums by Zappa Freak Out! , Absolutely Free , We're Only In It For The Money , Lumpy Gravy and Cruising With Ruben and the Jets and a bonus "Mystery Disc" consisting of previously unissued material that, at the time, was unavailable elsewhere. Only the first and second Old Masters box sets featured a Mystery Disc.

The Old Masters Box I
  1.     Freak Out!
  2.     Absolutely Free
  3.     Lumpy Gravy
  4.     We're Only In It For The Money
  5.     Cruising With Ruben & The Jets
  6.     Mystery Disc

Monday, August 27, 2012

Hammersmith Odean

Hammersmith Odean
Frank Zappa played London's Hammersmith Odeon five times in 1978: on 24, 25, 26 & 27 January 1978 and on 28 February 1978

The 25, 26 & 27 January 1978 and 28 February 1978 concerts provided the source for the basic tracks for Zappa's 1979 album Sheik Yerbouti.

The Hammersmith Odeon 3-CD set was designed to celebrate Frank Zappa's 70th birthday on 21 December 2010. Mixed in NYC by Frank Filipetti, none of the tracks have been previously released and the track listing mirrors and/or parallels the set lists of the concerts.

The album also documents Frank Zappa's band at the time, containing some of musician Adrian Belew's earliest performances. Early in 1978 Frank Zappa played London's Hammersmith Odeon and these concerts provided the source for the Basic Tracks for 1979's Sheik YerBouti. Hammersmith Odeon, compiled & produced by Gail Zappa and Joe Travers is now available in the Special Party Pack 3-CD set designed to celebrate FZ's 70th Birthday on December 21.

Mixed in NYC by Frank Filipetti, none of these tracks have been previously released and the track listing mirrors and/or parallels the set lists of the concerts. Peter Wolf, former band-member and current multi-faceted producer/arranger contributed Liner Notes.

The band is Frank Zappa, Lead Guitar & Vocals, Terry Bozzio, Drums & Vocals, Patrick O'Hearn, Bass & Vocals, Adrien Belew, Guitar & Vocals, Tommy Mars, Keys & Vocals, Peter Wolf, Keys and Ed Mann, Percussion.

Congress shall make make no law..

Congress shall make make no law..
Congress Shall Make No Law... is an album by Frank Zappa, released posthumously in 2010 by the Zappa Family Trust on Zappa Records. It contains a full recording of Zappa's September 19, 1985 testimony before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, during which he criticized the Parents Music Resource Center in support of the recording industry. The album's release commemorates the 25th anniversary of the hearings.

In a press release, Gail Zappa said of the album,

    "'Congress Shall Make No Law...' is released as an educational project, representing Zappa's tireless commitment to the First Amendment which he felt his duty to protect by providing (in his words) "stimulating digital audio entertainment" in the form of "material which a truly free society would neither fear nor suppress.

Congress Shall Make No Law... also includes Zappa testimony before the Maryland State Legislature the following year, as well as various quotes and interview excerpts on the subject of censorship and an alternate version of the song Reagan at Bitburg, one of the last pieces Zappa finished before his death in 1993. The first official version of the track was included on the 1994 album, Civilization Phaze III. Many of the tracks are named after the Ten Commandments, each corresponding to the particular topic of Zappa's opinion.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

One Shot Deal

One Shot deal
One Shot Deal is an album by Frank Zappa, posthumously released on June 13, 2008.

The track "Occam's Razor" is a guitar solo extract from a live version of the song "Inca Roads". The solo was used in the song "On The Bus" from the album Joe's Garage. This is an example of Zappa's xenochrony technique. Tracks 3 and 9 feature the Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra.
The latest release from the Zappa vault is sort of like a miniaturized version of the You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore series, spanning several different Zappa eras. The first track on One Shot Deal contains the unmistakeable vocals of Napoleon Murphy Brock and George Duke, getting down and dirty with the greasy gutter funk of Bathroom Man, which spot-lights Duke's lively, up-beat singing and keyboard playing, followed by a blistering blast of guitar from Frank. Next up is the interstellar dissonance of Space Boogers, one of my favorites on the album, which conjures up a musical meeting between Edgar Varèse and The Max Rebo band at a wake for William S. Burroughs. Space Boogers would have felt at home on Weasels Ripped My Flesh, as would the song that follows it, Hermitage, with more zany head-melting minimalism. After that we have Trudgin' Across The Tundra with its mellow yet slightly maniacal percussion and bass which gives off the distinct aroma of Willy The Pimp, and is quickly joined by a skittering trumpet solo by Gary Barone which is rather reminiscent of ye olde Waka Jawaka.

Buffalo

Buffalo
Having not heard many of the early 1980s shows, I was absolutely floored when I first heard Buffalo. This is essentially a variation on the Joe's Garage band, with the absolutely otherworldly rhythm section of Arthur Barrow and Vinnie Colaiuta leading Steve, Ray, Ike, Tommy, and Bob through some absolutely astonishing renditions. "Keep It Greasy," for example, is played at something approximating warp speed...the virtuosity is just jaw-dropping. Other standouts include embryonic versions of "Drowning Witch" and "Tinseltown Rebellion".

Pity, then, that the entire thing is compressed to hell and back. This could be inherent in the source or the mix, but the really tinny sound of "Buffalo" (when compared to the relative richness of "Imaginary Diseases" or even the recent "Trance Fusion") really does a disservice to the performances. Worst affected is Vinnie, whose cymbals pulse and distort wildly, and whose performance on the kit is frequently rendered an indistinguishable mess.

Verdict: "Buffalo" is a great purchase, and a great concert, but expect sound quality that doesn't even rise to the level of the hit-and-miss "Stage" series.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Synclavier

Frank Zappa on the Synclavier
Frank Zappa – in 1982 one of the first Synclavier owners; 1984's Thing-Fish (underscoring), Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger (underscoring) and Francesco Zappa (solely Synclavier); 1985's Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention (sampled sounds); 1986's Grammy-winning album Jazz from Hell ("St. Etienne" excepted, solely Synclavier); 1994's Civilization Phaze III completed in 1993 shortly before his death, released posthumously, musical portions composed and recorded exclusively using the Synclavier. He also used it on his 2011 release 

The Synclavier System was an early digital synthesizer, polyphonic digital sampling system, and music workstation, manufactured by New England Digital Corporation, Norwich, VT. The original design and development of the Synclavier prototype occurred at Dartmouth College with the collaboration of Professor Jon Appleton, Professor of Digital Electronics, Sydney A. Alonso, and Dartmouth, Thayer School of Engineering student software programmer, Cameron Jones.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Trance Fusion

Trance Fusion
This is by far the best release since LATHER. And the sound quality is amazing, particularly for a Zappa CD. There is breadth, depth, "space" between this instruments, etc.. In fact, The Zappa Family Trust should task Mr. Ludwig with remastering all of the pre-1993 catalog, most of which sounds like its had the life sucked out of it by Mr. Stone's previous remastering efforts. Think I'm kidding? Just compare the depth/quality of sound on any vinyl Zappa album to that of the same release on CD and you'll see what I mean. The sound of those pre-1993 albums on CD is pretty awful.

Now on to the music. There is some truly diabolical string-mangling on this gem of a disc!! This is an excellent sequel to the "Shut Up N' Play Yer Guitar" and "Guitar" releases. Be forewarned, however, that 2 tracks (the first and final) feature Dweezil, NOT Frank as soloist (while there is a bit of noodling from Frank toward the end of "Chunga", its Dweezil's solo that is the focus of the piece). That said, sandwiched between those two bookends (which are pretty good themselves) are some moments of pure sonic delight. Check out "Ask Dr. Stupid", which features the Coliauta lineup from the late 70's: the solo is taken from a performance of "Easy Meat", and Vinnie's drumming turns the piece into a somewhat deranged permutation of a "cha-cha" while Frank "puts the eyebrows on it"!! Most of the other solos are from the 1988 and 1984 tours. As with the previous "Guitar"-oriented releases, its interesting to note the very different sounds of the various lineups represented, particularly in the drums. While Chad Wackerman is an amazing drummer, his sound on all of Zappa's releases always comes off as somewhat mechanical, particularly when contrasted with Vinnie's much more "organic" approach. Vinnie and Frank always seemed to have some sort of "mind meld" happening when Frank was soloing, with Vinnie somehow able to anticipate what Frank was about to play most of the time. That quality simply isn't there with Wackerman (or Bozzio, for that matter), giving the Coliauta lineup's output a slight edge over the others (in my opinion). Maybe we'll be fortunate enough to get an official release of some of Mr. Coliauta's live work with Jeff Beck from this past summer (2006) so we can find out if he's still the same type of musician that played with Frank so long ago.

Other highlights are "Light is All That Matters", "Bowling on Charen", and the title track. But its ALL good stuff! And its VERY HARD to find anyone else around these days who can hold a candle to Frank's sheer brilliance on guitar and his mastery of so many varied tones/moods (Jeff Beck and Nels Cline come to mind, but that's about it). So go out and get this thing, crank it up, and annoy the heck out of your neighbors!! After the great 'Imaginary Diseases' the Zappas hit another ball out of the field with 'Trance Fusion'. This is an album that Frank himself prepared for release, but it has been sitting in the vaults for more than 13 years. It was about time! The Zappas got it right. Comes in a jewel case (not like those digipacks that cant be replaced if broken), with a great art cover and the sound is to write home about. They gave the tapes to Bob Ludwig, who remastered among other things the Virgin Stones catalogue, and this material sound very very good. Zappa playing is in his own class, and it is nice to have more solos from the 88 tour, probably one of the tightest bands ever put together by Frank. Highly recommended.

The MOFO Project/Object

The MOFO Project / Object
"MoFo" is half reissue, half archival release, something that (somewhat curiously) has never quite happened with a Zappa album before. Barring quibbles with focus, track-listing, and how exactly it relates to the larger, as-yet-unreleased 4-disc variant available directly from the Zappas, it's also an absolutely fantastic thing, and it's a great buy if you're even marginally interested in the album or its author.

Disc 1 of "MoFo" is intended, I suppose, to supplant the current, single-disc "Freak Out!" from Rykodisc. "Freak Out!" was largely spared Zappa's reissue-revisionism (coughCruisin'WithRubencough), but the original 1987 CD of that album--which is, for all intents and purposes, largely identical to the current Ryko CD--didn't escape entirely unscathed. Zappa remixed some cuts, and attempted to compensate for "Freak Out!"'s primitive and muddy stereo presentation by drastically re-equalizing the album and covering it in a layer of digital reverb. The result is far from unpleasant, but still bears little resemblence to "Freak Out!" as it was released in 1966.

MoFo's first disc is thus dedicated entirely to "Freak Out!" as it was, presenting an unvarnished, un-enhanced, 1987-vintage digital transfer of the original stereo mix of the album; in fact, this may have been the very digital transfer that Frank used as the basis for the Ryko "Freak Out." Those familiar with the Ryko album are in for a shock, as this iteration is muddier and heavier and sounds far more like...well, an album from 1966 (those familiar with the difference in tone between the remix of "The Who Sell Out" and the original will find a similar comparison here). Little details, like Ray Collins' "Girl!" at the end of "You Didn't Try to Call Me" or the extra effects on "Who Are the Brain Police?", particularly stand out. It's fantastic to have this presentation of "Freak Out!" back again, and I find it interesting that MoFo's packaging doesn't make its status as a semi-reissue (as opposed to "just" an archival release) more explicit.

It's Disc 2, though, that functions as the main point of the set. Let me get the (few) criticisms out of the way first. Listening to the second disc of MoFo is like listening to the sampler for the three-disc "Pet Sounds Sessions" box, and there's precious little cohesion to be found; as MoFo sort of functions as a "sampler" of the larger box, though, this is understandable. One of the only other criticisms I can muster: it's too short!

Otherwise, Disc 2 is a delight. We're presented with alternate mixes of various vintages, backing tracks, outtakes, and so on, all of which are enlightening to various degrees. The liner notes reveal that a surprising source was utilized for several tracks: apparently, Frank kept a mono reel plugged into the desk at all times. What this means is that the sort of material which wouldn't generally be preserved on the multi-track session tape--say, rough overdub sessions for "Go Cry on Somebody Else's Shoulder" or the "finished" vocal overdub mix of "Motherly Love"--are present and accounted for, giving a distinct "documentary" feel to the procedings. Tantalizing tastes of some other surprises, like a 1966 soundboard recording and snippets of demos that coincide with the "Corsage" material, are similarly spectacular, as are bits and pieces of Monster Magnet. It makes you want to hear MORE, and in that fashion serves as a great sampler for the larger set (I should note that the smaller MoFo does contain some exclusive tracks, so completists will need to have both).

Verdict: A solid reissue and fascinating archival release all in one. The beginning of what looks to be a wonderful new series.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Imaginary Diseases

Imaginary Diseases
This is a superb album. The band from Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo, with it's heavy jazz emphasis, plays superbly arranged pieces from the Petit Wazoo tour of the early 70's. My personal favorite is Been To Kansas City In A Minor (be careful how you read this double entendre). I believe this is an essential CD for the Zappa lover. For those that admire the jazz of Miles Davis/John Coltrane, this is a chance to hear Zappa's version of "jazz-rock" at its finest from a live performance. Coming as it did at the time of Bitches Brew, I am left to wonder - after years of believing Miles Davis as the superior musician/composer/arranger - if Zappa did not in fact come close to being his equal or even his better. Such points are not worth quibbling over. This is a 5 star performance from a band playing the music of one of the musical geniuses of the 20th century. Zappa plays some wicked guitar as well, but the greatness is in the compositions and arrangements. This recording starts off with a couple of short typically abstract pieces, the kind of Zappa music I can't handle when I'm tired and stressed, and I worried for a moment... But like a thicket of brambles at the edge of a lovely magical forest these ditties serve to protect and discourage the unadventurous. The long improvisational jams and FZ solos within are amazing, varied and delightful. Been to Kansas City is a straight ahead blues number with great guitar work and horn arrangements (at first I thought FZ must be covering a blues standard). Farther O'blivion, in typical FZ form, is all over the place giving the jazzy Petite Wazoo band room to show their chops. D.C. Boogie is quickly becoming one of my favorite tunes (Zappa or otherwise), with FZ starting off in a spacey languid jam sounding at times like he's incorporating riffs from the Allman Brothers or Marshall Tucker Band, then ending it in an (audience voted) "Boogie" which sounds alot like a San Francisco Grateful Dead/Quicksivler Messanger Service kind of affair (except with killer horns) - a decidely unZappa-like sensiblity. Imaginary Diseases and Montreal continue the variety with encore performances jamming on an extended Apostrophe-like theme. I can't imagine anyone staying in their seats for these tunes.

Overall I'm pleased and a bit surprised by this release, and the hint of more to come. Vai opines that Zappa was perhaps the most prolific composer in history, and that we'll not likely see in our life times the release of it all. Meanwhile we have Dweezil promoting his father's works with authentic and respectful renditions, and various Big Bands starting to cover FZ's complex repertoire with suitable skill. This is all good news, to old and new fans.

Joe's Domage

Joes Domage
'Joe's Domage' is one of a possible 15 to 20 scheduled releases for the near future, collectively called 'Joe's Corsaga'. If this CD is any indication of what is to come, this Zappa fan won't be along for the journey.

Noted as a 'lost rehearsal tape' from 1972 sessions, 'Joe's Domage' is just that - a rehearsal tape! Just Frank and his band noodling around on pieces that show up on 'Waka/Jawaka' and 'The Grand Wazoo'. If you're a Zappa fanatic/collector who wonders what it would have been like to be a fly on the wall during these sessions, you might get something out of this. At $20 to $25, I found this CD to be way overpriced and sort of a cheap way to make a buck. While I never met the man, I have a hard time believing that Frank would have approved of this release. My faith in the 'Zappa Family Trust' has taken a serious blow...

If you're interested in this CD and do not own 'Waka/Jawaka' or 'The Grand Wazoo', purchase them instead. Excellent albums in which all of the material on this collection is fully realized and sounding great!! I rated this collection with two stars instead of one only because I really like what the pieces on here later become and as a big fan, I had a hard time giving anything of Zappa's that low of rating. "Joe's Domage," a moderately interesting but overall meaningless collection of music that would only be worthy of release once the good stuff sitting in the vaults is freed from the ideological tyranny, stinginess, and greed of the FZT. Buy "Joe's Domage" used if you can--don't reward the creators of this effort. The sound is shoddy and the tunes are incomplete, fragmented jams. Evidently the FZT is going to milk Frank's music to such an absurd extent that they are putting out the poor, meaningless releases before they ever issue anything of value. They are going to ride this train as long as they can--all at the expense of the fans.

Everything is healing nicely

Everything is healing nicely
If you like the Yellow Shark disc , the album was missing an essential piece. It is here under the name Amnerika Goes Home.
There are other tunes here too plus some dialogue. Ensemble Modern plays well. Zappa was well enough to play some guitar. This is not a guitar album, though. Frank Zappa, posthumously released through the Zappa Family Trust in December 1999. It features recordings made with the Ensemble Modern in preparation for The Yellow Shark.
Late in his life, Frank Zappa hooked up with the small German avant-garde orchestra the Ensemble Modern for what are said to have been the most enjoyable encounters with an orchestra he had in his career. The combination resulted in the last album Zappa released during his life, The Yellow Shark. This album, issued seven years later by the Zappa Family Trust, chronicles some more of the sessions. "These are recordings from Frank Zappa's rehearsals with the Ensemble Modern in preparation for The Yellow Shark, writes Todd Yvega, who also served as a recordist on the project. In some cases, such as "Whitey (Prototype)," an early version of "Get Whitey," the tracks are actual run-throughs of material that would turn up on The Yellow Shark. Others find Zappa conducting the orchestra through improvisations. With his usual sense of humor, and with sympathetic classical musicians for once, he combines experimental music with other found sounds, including recitations by pianist Hermann Kretzschmar, who begins by reading the information from his library card and later in the album reads letters to the editor from Piercing Fans International Quarterly ("Keep up the great work. I don't know what to pierce next.") The juxtapositions of spoken word and orchestral sounds is reminiscent of Lumpy Gravy, while Kretzschmar's German accent recalls Theodore Bikel in 200 Motels. But the unusual percussion effects bespeak the continuing influence on Zappa of his early mentor Edgard Varèse, bringing these late recordings full circle to some of his first compositions.

Mystery Disc

Mystery Disc
The MYSTERY DISC is the re-release, on a single disc, of two CDs released with the Zappa Masters box set in the 80s. It was the first of many archival excavations made by Zappa after jumping on with Rykodisc. 10 tracks, about 30 minutes of material, appeared later, in some form, on AHEAD OF THEIR TIME, THE LOST EPISODES, and volume 5 of the YCDTOSA series. That having been said, that still leaves about 48 minutes of material that can only be found on this disc. In other words, still a good deal.

The disc follows the earliest years of Zappa's career, featuring some pretty interesting pre-Mothers material. Film scores (RUN HOME SLOWLY, DUKE OF PRUNES), recordings of Zappa in various rock ensembles, a strange miscellany of pieces recorded at Studio Z, and even a hilarious snippet of Zappa taking over a college radio station (THE UNCLE FRANKIE SHOW). (I believe) The first recordings of Zappa with the group that would later become the Mothers is also included (AT THE BROADSIDE), and the film they played as a background group in (MONDO HOLLYWOOD) when Herb Cohen discovered them. Captain Beefheart fans will also rejoice in some of the very earliest appearances of Don Van Vliet's persona (THE BIRTH OF CAPTAIN BEEFHEART, a small snippet of Vliet reading a portion of the script to Capt. Beefheart vs. the Grunt People). There's also some early FZ guitar noodling (BOSSA NOVA) and the theme to FZ's failed rock opera, I WAS A TEENAGE MALT SHOP.

The second half of the Disc has largely seen the light of day on the aforementioned albums. Some interesting material not found elsewhere include the studio version of AGENCY MAN, the (a)typical Mothers avant-garde tickle madness of SKWEEZIT SKWEEZIT SKWEEZIT, a 1972 interview snippet in which Zappa seeks to find the story behind Willie the Pimp, and goes straight the source (THE STORY OF WILLIE THE PIMP), and the Charva-like CHUCHA (FZ following his own advice again from track 11).

This material is anything but essential -- its for the curious or hardcore fans only. The casual FZ listener will doubtless find this too strange, or stupid, to bear. Fans of the early Mothers (or Beefheart), in particular, will find it pretty interesting. Regardless of who enjoys it, its a worthwhile audio documentary of the legendary cultural/musical phenomenon that was Frank Zappa.

Lather

Lather
The story behind the creation of this collection is almost as legendary as the man who created it. Suffice to say, it was originally intended as a 4-disc vinyl release, ran into some complications, and was delayed by a mere 20 years. These complications resulted in Frank Zappa's suing a VERY LARGE RECORD COMPANY for about 3 million, the material being released across about 5 albums (three of them against his wishes), and, in an act of revolt, Frank's broadcasting of the album in its entirety on LA's KROQ, during which he actually encouraged listeners to record it.

Until RYCODISC's CD version came out around '96, the only way a person could hear the album as Frank had intended was if one could get ahold of the recording of this famous broadcast. Had it been released when it was supposed to, Läther would have qualified as the ultimate work of this sorely-missed musical innovator. Zappa's wildly diverse compositional capabilities are represented more comprehensively here than on any release; from live rock performances to symphonic and chamber works, from dialogue snippets to tape-manipulated musique concrete, this is the full spectrum of pre-digital FZ at the peak of his powers. Nobody could touch this man in the 70s.

As many of the songs were a bit new and rough at the time of these recordings, Frank produced more polished and extended versions in the later albums "Zappa in New York" and "Sheik Yerbouti", so his reticence to release this collection during his lifetime is certainly understandable. However, if you have not yet heard "Studio Tan", "Sleep Dirt" and/or "Orchestral Favorites", you can get them all in one tidy remastered package (without the annoying vocals that were added on "Sleep Dirt") and enjoy them in one seriously eclectic listening.

I'm a firm believer in cheating with Desert Island Picks, by choosing box sets. If I had the choice of one Zappa release to sustain me in isolation, I would not have to think for very long, because Läther has it all. The ultimate FZ representation, hands down. Zappa had originally intended this album to be released as a four LP set back in 1977 but Warner Brothers decided not to release it for various reasons I won't get into here. Instead, they got Zappa to divide the original Lather album into four separate albums, often with different arrangements and mixes: Zappa in New York, Studio Tan, Orchestral Favorites and Sleep Dirt, and a few songs found their way onto Sheik Yerbouti too. Warner Bros. also decided not to pay Frank for his work. So Zappa played the entire Lather album over the radio airwaves from which countless bootlegs have been made. Ha ha Warner, you greedheads. So finally, years later we get an official release of Lather, Zappa's magnum opus and arguably his best album and it was worth the wait.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lost episodes

Lost Episodes
Frank Zappa personally compiled this new Rykodisc collection of studio rarities, alternate versions, and unreleased tracks as one of his last projects -- not only as a way of paying tribute to many of the people who had affected his life but also as a gesture of appreciation to his fans. Assembled as a kind of after-hours project over 18 months in 1992 and 1993, THE LOST EPISODES includes 30 tracks spanning 1958-1972, with short detours to 1980 and 1992. Tracks of particular note include "Ronny's Booger Story" and "Kenny's Booger Story," which shed new light on the (ahem) incidents which inspired "Let's Make the Water Turn Black,” an early, jazz samba arrangement of "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance,” ”Lil’ Clanton Shuffle,” a blues jam left off 1969’s HOT RATS which features Sugar Cane Harris on violin, original recordings of such Zappa gems as “RDNZL” and “Inca Roads,” the 1980 single version of "I Don't Wanna Get Drafted,” and five tracks featuring the vocal stylings of Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) including one of the earliest Zappa-Beefheart studio collaborations, “Tiger Roach.” TLE’s cover art is by Gabor Csupo, founder of Klasky-Csupo Animation, the people who originally animated The Simpsons and now bring you Duckman and Rugrats. Packaged in a deluxe slipcase, the album is accompanied by a 52-page booklet with extensive liner notes by music journalist Rip Rense, including detailed commentary about each song derived from interviews with Zappa, engineer Spencer Chrislu, and a plethora of FZ's musical associates including Vliet, Ruth Underwood, Terry Bozzio, and James "Motorhead" Sherwood. Both Rense and Csupo contributed to this package at Zappa's request.

From his early rock combos of the late 50's to the primitive early-60’s Studio Z era, through the state-of-the-art Utility Muffin Research Kitchen to just about anywhere else FZ ever turned on a tape recorder, THE LOST EPISODES is an autobiographical glimpse behind the scenes of Zappa's long and varied recording career and a fascinating look at one of “popular music’s most brilliant -- and daunting -- figures” (Chicago Sun-Times). If you want to know the story of the time Zappa shared a stage with Louis Armstrong, if you want to hear FZ's Clio Award-winning music for a 1967 Luden's Cough Drop commercial, or if you simply want to know the meaning of the word "eructation," THE LOST EPISODES is the disc you need. The Lost Episodes, one of the last projects FZ ever worked on, is a compilation of the earliest recordings of Zappa material. the tracks on this album go back to 1958...8 years before his premiere album! there are 30 tracks ( I say "tracks" because many are not songs) yet every one of them is very significant and entertaining.

A 60 page booklet comes with the album that describes the history of every track....a giant "plus" in the compilation department and a mandatory read if you want to entirely grasp and appreciate this album. there are very many highlights on this album and I'll name a few:

You cant do that on stage anymore vol. 6

You cant do that on stage anymore vol. 6
As his last volume in this series, it seems quite obvious that Frank was getting in his last laugh. From the very beginning of Disc one and the "Anti-Smut Loyalty Oath", followed by the infamous "Poodle Lecture" (a meeting of several conceptual continuity clues), he seems set on making a disc that is "about sex" (as he admitted in the liner notes). Disc 1 contains some of Franks most hysterical and conceptually relevant live monologues. "White Person" is a good example of the audible effects of Frank's improvisatory conducting style, and "Make a Sex Noise" shows how Frank could play the crowd.

Although the first disc of Vol 6 might be the key to the mythology of Frank's sexual metaphors, disc two sees some of Frank's least accessible stuff. It introduces itself as largely instrumental and improvisatory.

The version of "Catholic Girls" here really brings out the best that Ike Willis had to offer. The voice of Joe come up really clearly here, and his backups really bring out the best of Frank's mastery of traditional harmony with the "don't bother Mary" chunk that outlines relatively traditional resolution practices. The voice of the Central Scrutinizer makes an appearance here, too, and the subsequent inclusion of "Crew Slut" is an extension of the "Joe's" storyline.

A music education lesson happens in the track "Thirteen". One two One two three one two three four seems almost like a tala based on the Indian idea of an additive phrase, and the entire solo is over a single chord. Frank is also joined on stage by the Indian violinist Shankar. Shankar's background is in the Carnatic style, which uses ragas as a source of melodic expression. It would be interesting to see if Shankar was playing in a raga, and if so, which one. In fact, this is something that I have thought about Zappa recently. It is actually quite rare that we get to hear him over chord changes. Is there a similarity between the expressiveness of raga-based music and the rhythmic displacement that they use to create tension and release in Zappa's methods of improvisation?

We're Turning again almost comes off as a tribute to the `60's and his place in it. It seems like it could almost be nostalgic, which begs the question about Zappa's theory that nostalgia is a potentially destructive force in the universe.Disc Two is slightly more varied in its content, but holds the same mood as Disc One, basically a performer and his backing band giving the audience a good, entertaining show. There are different incarnations of The Mothers in the series, but they are only represented here, in the 1970-1971 phase, with Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman as lead vocalists, and their critics notwithstanding, two very talented singers, and a couple really funny guys, at that. See "Playground Psychotics" for confirmation of this.

Civilization III

Civilization III
This is Zappa's masterpiece of electronic music, conceived, composed and performed on his Synclavier, a computer system for music composition and recording. Civilization Phaze III is an astounding work, taking Zappa nearly ten years to finish. Released posthumously, this 2 CD set is a testimony to Zappa the composer, containing the pure fruits of his imagination and the hard work he continued until his death in 1993. Continuing the story of the piano people from Lumpy Gravy (and utilizing much of the same tape source material for it's interludes) the album fulfills on the promise of his Grammy-winning Jazz From Hell, the first album released of his Synclavier music. Rather than sounding artificial, the sampled instruments sound other-worldly, as if Zappa's latest band had traveled from a dimension where our own laws of space and time didn't apply. Strings morph into winds in the middle of a phrase, and different instruments trade alternating notes in the most complicated and fast of passages. Anyone interested in new experimental and electronic music will also want to check out Civilization Phaze III, the genre's best-kept secret. Civilization Phaze III is a testament to Zappa's genius. It is not intended to conform to mainstream popular music. For those who are interested in this form of Zappa, look elsewhere. Joe's Garage, perhaps.

Parts of this work were in development for some 10 years prior to their completion. Zappa never really "completed" it; he just stopped working on it because he passed away. Even days before his death, he spent time at the Synclavier tweaking and tweezing parts, constantly molding the work to his liking.

Conceptually, the construction of each piece is brilliant! At the time, Zappa owned one the largest collections of digitally sampled sounds in the world, which was sold after his death for a tidy sum. It was from this catalog of sounds that Zappa would compose. The Ensemble Modern was added at length to this catalog of sounds, during the development of the Yellow Shark. Portions of these samples can be heard on Buffalo Voice and elsewhere. As Zappa composed on the Synclavier, elements of his score were assigned to sampled sounds, and the entire composition was digitally constructed using Zappa's score as a road map. This form of composing is entirely Zappa's creation and it is ingeniously conceived.

While other reviewers may comment that these works are "unlistenable" or they cannot imagine listening to them more than once, keep in mind, this is one person's opinion. I have listened to the compositions in this work countless times (well over 100) since its release, and have most of it memorized. It is one of the most brilliant compositional works I have ever heard, within the realms of electronic music.

Civilization Phaze III wraps-up the musical life of Frank Zappa. For those who are familiar with Zappa and his musical career, one can hear the numerous classical composers who influenced Zappa. Listen close enough and you will come to new insights on life and music from those speaking from within the piano. Many compositions contain parts that are unplayable by humans. Some rhythmic parts are so complex they open our ears to new sounds we have never heard before, much the same way Conlon Nancarrow's compositions did for the player piano.

Yellow Shark

Yellow Shark
Frank Zappa was not known for his serious nature. He was very good at pointing out the silliness and stupidity of just about anything that could be conceived. If there was one thing (besides family) that he took seriously, it was music, and he really did not take most of that too seriously, either. His rock compositions were big jokes as far as he was concerned. The only reason that it was as complex and involved as it was came from nothing less than the force of his genius. At the beginning of Yellow Shark, he off-handedly asks to audience to "get serious" (before asking them to put panties on one side of the stage), and one gets the impression that he is at least a little serious. Lord knows, if Frank is serious about it, maybe we should be, too.

Academia, if it as smart as it purports to be, will hopefully also take Zappa's chamber work seriously. Let's take a look at some of the major trends in the chamber / art music of the twentieth century and see why.

From 1900 to WWI, tonal harmony got deconstructed and eventually destroyed by Schoernberg and his students, Webern and Berg. Stravinsky and Bartok used this freedom to create new tonalities, like octotonicism and symmetrical harmony. Between the World Wars, many composers, like Copland and Villa-Lobos, turned towards the traditional music of their homeland for inspiration. After WWII, Cage and Brown worked under a philosophy that came to be called indeterminacy, in which the very idea of what music was came to be questioned. In the late 20th century, the climate of "classical" chamber music was a rediscovery of tonality and a turn towards minimalism. Composers like Glass and Reich took cues from meditative music from different cultures to create complex textures that were composed of very simple parts.

Then Zappa comes along. He asks the musicians to interpret notation like an indeterminist (Food Gathering in Post-Industial America), but uses melody and harmony in a way that recalls Stravinsky (Dog Breath Variations). He paints a picture of the landscape of his surroundings like a mid-20th century composer, but the picture he paints is one of excess, stupidity, and ignorance (Welcome to the United States). He creates textures like a minimalist (Pound for a Brown), but uses them as a tool to lull the listener into a musical trap that explodes in his/her face. He calls Varese a major influence, and has a similar percussive approach, but moves away from electronic music and into the wind ensemble (G-Spot Tornado). In short, people will most likely be studying his work well into the 21st century.

In this regard Yellow Shark is and will be a historically significant recording. Frank's hand is all over this album. One gets the sensation that it was organized and executed in a way that he approved of, and getting Franks approval on anything was no easy task. The recording is clear and pristine and the performances are passionate and flawless. G-Spot Tornado as realized by Rundell and the Ensemble Modern here is the most electrifying chamber performance I own on CD. The audience sits in an audibly stunned silence for several long seconds before literally erupting into applause. Ah, to have been there.

Be warned, if you are a FZ fan, you may or may not "get" this. If you liked the LSO recording, Yellow Shark stomps it. If Freak Out is your favorite and you were the guy on Baby Snakes hollering for Dinah-Moe Humm, you get no guarantees from me. This is dense and heady, but it is probably the definitive recording of Zappa's chamber work. At the very least, it's the swan song of the last great composer of the 20th century and is worth owning for that reason if no other.

Monday, August 20, 2012

You Cant do that on Stage anymore vol. 5

You Cant do that on Stage anymore vol. 5
One thing I see all the time, is when people review volume 5 of "You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore," (or any, for that matter), and think that Zappa's comment in the sleeve notes in the series about the original Mothers' talent, compared to later bands, is supposed to show a lack of ability and talent on the part of the original band. This is glaringly wrong. To parse this quote: 'Great care has been taken throughout to ensure the best audio quality, however early selections of historical interest performed by the original Mothers Of Invention, though not exactly "hi-fi," have been included for the amusement of those fetishists who still believe the only "good" material was performed by that particular group.' This is his gift to fans of the original band. He was aware of a segment of his fan base that still prefers the early material.
"Hopefully, comparisons to recordings by the later ensembles will put an end to that particular misconception." This only means that one of his favorite ensembles, the 1982 touring band, is a good contrast to the old material. If he didn't like any of it, there would be as little of it included here as possible. Disc one is a cross section of the early players, not just the performances, but the attitude of that particular band. Jim Black singing on the tour bus like some drunk ready to be thrown out of a bar, is an anthropological recording, a statement of how the guys carried on in those days. Not a spotlight of "talent," but more, what they were about. And FZ's disparaging comments about the original Mothers notwithstanding, they were one of the best bands to perform, in a studio, or on stage.

Disc Two, is a cross section of performances by the 1982 band, which, he has said numerous times, played "beautifully." Hearing this disc, is almost like attending a single live performance by this particular band. Pretty representative of a typical early 80's show. Some commercial material ("Dancin' Fool"), extended jams ("A Pound For A Brown"), displays of the bands individual chops ("RDNZL"), and my particular favorite part of the disc, "Geneva Farewell." Some idiot threw something onto the stage, and if you follow Frank Zappa's live performances, even casually, you'll notice he always stressed, "Don't throw stuff onto the stage," this was a common announcement he made from the stage at his shows. So, at this point, he says, "Okay, if you throw anything else onto the stage, the concert's over." You then hear a translator plead to the audience what Zappa said. Then the moron in the audience doesn't take him seriously, and throws something at him anyway. The response? "Houselights! The concert's over." And I hope the people in the audience taught this guy a lesson.

I'll review the other volumes of this series as time and circumstance will allow, but I chose this one first, mostly because of what I saw in reviews about the Mothers on Disc 5, and misconceptions about the comments about misconceptions concerning the early band. If this makes any sense. :-)

Also: A reference to FZ's solos on "Underground Freak Out...". The guitar solos in question, are Lowell George's. Zappa conducted the band here, like an orchestra.

Ahead of their Time

Ahead of their time
You get two performances for the price of one: enforced recreation/drama and musical presentation.

This is a FZ/Mothers of Invention London Royal Festival Hall concert from October 28th, 1968. The FZ faithful have heard a litle bit of this show before, specifically "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask" and "The Orange County Lumber Truck" on Weasels Ripped My Flesh. Other than these (edited) bits, this is newly released material.

FZ calls the first half of the album a "cheesy little psycho drama," and if you're a fan of traditional Mothers of Invention stage antics, you're in hog heaven. By comparison, this is no involved epic a la Fillmore East: June 1971. The cheez factor is pretty high here, with some sight gags onstage, easy enough to figure out if you're really listening and have read the liner notes. It's standard FZ on-the-road musical theater, with shots at pop music and pop culture, with a mildly enthusiastic and strictly polite English audience laughing and applauding in all of the right places.

This album doesn't warm up musically until track 11 and "King Kong," and it's only after track 15, "Sleeping in a Jar" that this musical portion of the show really picks up and starts to rock. The album then just steamrolls through the finale, a wonderful, extended, full, boss-band "Orange County Lumber Truck (Part II)." FZ himself, true to form, is a bit more critical, describing this musical portion of the album (tracks 11-20) as "a fair-not outstanding--1968 MOI rock concert performance."

The liner notes are a true winner, produced like an old-timey theater handbill. On one side you've got a great full-color Cal Schenkel portrait-suitable for framing! On the flip side you've got the handbill itself, also illustrated by Cal Schenkel, with a list of the artists, background on the show and its recording, a plot of the psycho drama, and a semi-detailed track listing.

Is this album for the FZ novice? Nope. This is not an entry-level FZ recording. It's a bit too esoteric, a little too deep into the FZ/MOI cosmology. But, for the true FZ/MOI fan-you betcha; it's a must. This is well worth the investment for the first ten tracks alone, and is a keeper for the great live FZ/MOI songs in the second half of the album.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Playground Psychotics

Playground Psychotics
If you're just starting your FZ collection this wouldn't be a great place to start, it might put you off. This is music and dialogue snippets from Frank Zappa's 1970-1971 band, which featured flo and eddie, aynsley dunbar, george duke(1970), don preston(1971) jim pons (71) jeff simmons(70) ian underwood, and sometimes bob harris(71). If you don't know much about Frank's various line-ups and their popularity with the fans, well then this particular group is the least popular, and is often joked about and had nasty things said about it by the fans on their web pages or whatever mainly for the presence of flo and eddie who sang with high pitched whiney vocals. Some of this abuse is way over the top especially when you listen to some of the music. The dialogue portions are mildly entertaining, it's better if you've seen 200 motels and are familiar with this band. There is a funny interview with a hotel proprietor concerning mudshark fishing from hotel bedrooms and possible 'acts' with the fish. A few candid tape recorded moments too.

There is quite a bit of music on the album, i reckon about 80 to 90 minutes worth and most of it is excellent. Don Preston shines on minimoog, for example the intro to 'scumbag' also on 'billy the mountain'. Lots of flo and eddie versions of old mothers tunes: 'cruising for burgers', sleeping in a jar, mom and dad, concentration moon, status back baby .A really top Sharleena. If you can come to terms with the singing, these are terrific! Divan is part of the sofa routine, zanti is a sound check , brixton still life is a good guitar solo . Then you have John and Yoko doing their thing, it's a mixed bag. 'well' and 'scumbag' are enjoyable. Then you have yoko ono screeching for about 15 minutes(ok about 3 or 4 minutes, but it seemed like 15). Avant-garde or just poo-poo? Take your pick. CD2 has a majestic billy the mountain. This is an acquired taste but grows on you. It shows how frank could combine comedy routine with great music, and also has don preston solo. Overall it's as good as the other flo and eddie live stuff like filmore 71 and just another band from LA, if not better. I suppose the extra money might be a minus factor, but it's got lots of good bits. I liked it the first time I heard it.

You cant do that on Stage anymore Vol. 4

You cant do that on Stage anymore Vol. 4
As far as i'm concerned when it comes to the stage series this set comes second only to volume2. There are so many great bits here. cd1 is the better disc, for sure. It contains humour, instrumental music, great guitar and super solos from other band members.

We have the hilarious 'little rubber girl' to begin with from 1979. Guess what this one is about? Hilarious vocals from frank and..denny i think. i'm not sure. Stick together is not a great song, but nice singing by ray. My guitar and willie the ... are cool, especially the ray white singing on .... These are from the 84 band, as is a portion of montana. Frank combines the 84 band and the 73 band(roxy&elsewhere band) to great effect. There's a great 73 guitar solo, followed by 84 band playing. Then 2 thing fish classics. Brown Moses sung by ike and ray is lovely.84 band again. And 1984 also provides us with an awesome 'evil prince'. It's a top tune sung by the great Ray White.(Yes, i love the guy). This version is in contrast to the nappy brock version on thing fish, which is understated. The live version really rocks. Great rhythm playing by scott and chad, and a guitar solo from heaven, one of Frank's best (he's got a lot of 'best' solos!!). One of stage's highlights. A 79 approximate is brilliantly played and has the classic 'heinz make food' line. Love of my life is a nice little song from the 80 band. 1984 brings us the great Archie Shepp, a famous free jazz sax virtuoso. He has a great solo on 'let's move to cleveland solos'. Alan zavod has a great jazzy piano solo. Then a classic 69 mothers instrumental, abstract, improvised stuff. Special guest star on vibes. A 1978 pound for a brown solos shows tommy mars and peter wolf getting some spotlight. It has a wonderful groove to it. This segues into the awesomeness that is 'the black page'. It is a high tempo performance from the 1984 band, and is fantastic. There is a great solo from Frank with some echo effects, building up to a shattering climax. Of special note is scottt hunes remarkable bass playing during the solo - a bass solo in itself. Then the 88 band get to shine, with the side-splitting baseball tune..'ehhhhh, one run games jim'. And an awesome big band filthy habits. Frank solos with burning intensity. Brilliant playing again, another one of his best solos! Along with black page and evil prince!! A 76 torture with beefheart wraps up the disc. Great vocals great song.

on disc 2 no instrumentals but great comedy and guitar. church chat has frank endearing himself to a french audience-'there is no hell, there is only France!' An amazing 10 minute stevie's spanking with megaton guitar soloing. outside now is beautiful with a great guitar solo,disco boy teenage wind are cool and hilarious truck driver divorce from 84 more great guitar and a 2 band florentine pogen. hilarious wank tribute song is followed by some george duke treasures from 74. it's funky and funny. carolina is the business followed by zappa heckles the audience and doo wop lucky bag.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Best band you never heard in your life

The best band you never heard in your life
At close to 130 minutes of music this may be the perfect (and a "light") Zappa introduction to no-know-persons. Although most of the material is taken from FZ's late 60's through mid 70's repertoire, or what some might call his hey day rock material, big variations (thanks to re-arrangements) are being made, and styles vary. There's also a bunch of classic rock covers, such as "Purple Haze," "Sunshine of Your Love," "Stairway to Heaven" among others - even the "Bonanza" theme is included. All cover songs are worth listening to - they're extremely extreme! After listening to any of them for the first time there is NO WAY the words "Just what I expected" will escape from your sincere mouth.
What differs the old FZ studio songs from these 15-to-20-years-later-live-versions are the arrangements and the lyrics. A lot of the lyrics are humorously replaced on the spot (the band seems to have a really good time) and close to all songs on this album feature a horn section armed with five men who handle 10 different horns.
From what I understand, the '88 tour band (the last of Zappa's rock bands) knew 196 songs - songs that Zappa could call off at concerts at any time, and it truly shows that this band have practiced A LOT! The musicianship is, as on many of Zappa's albums, EXTRAORDINARY.
As a musician I can deeply recommend it for inspiration to anyone involved in musical activities.
As an "innocent bystander" I recommend it to anyone with a sense of humor who wants to enjoy well performed quality music, but if you're looking for an album to cry to while enjoying a bowl-size glass of white wine and looking out the window at the pouring rain, questioning the meaning of life and death, then this is ABSOLUTELY NOT it.
This title, recorded before the BWTHW touring band disintegrated in a flurry of slap-fighting and mean-spirited "slam books," offers an extraordinary glimpse of where Zappa could have gone if he had lived another fifteen years. By this time in his career, Zappa was the undisputed champion of writing impossible compositions and then flogging his musicians into playing them. Thus, with this tour Zappa settled into a more relaxed set that emphasized showmanship along with the musical feats.

Considering the number of musicians on stage during this tour, there is an amazing amount of space in these songs. It is almost as though the whole thing was produced in a studio, with some musicians contributing a note or two per chorus. The wide-open spaces on the album make a fantastic palette for Zappa to really emphasize his strengths as a guitar player, and they also leave room for the other greats in this band to express themselves.

The song list includes stellar versions of some Zappa classics, like Florentien Pogen and Inca Roads, along with a few suprises. Who knew that Stairway to Heaven's guitar solo would sound so good as a horn arrangement? Who but Zappa would have equated "Ring of Fire" with some sort of fungal (possibly sexually transmitted) infection?

I agree with the other reviewers that this is a good intro to Zappa, with one caveat: this is an extraordinarily cynical album. Maybe all of the parody of Johnny Cash seems over the top in light of his recent passing, and you can probably forgive Zappa for devoting so much time to dissecting the sexual indescretions of Jimmy Swaggart. In any case, there are lots of points in this album where the easy facade of playfulness seems to give way to a very dark underbelly. All I am saying is, don't put this in the CD player until you've had your morning coffee.

Broadway the Hardway

Broadway the Hardway

Overall, a great recording from a fantastic FZ band, clearly the most direct and biting of all of the 80s activist Zappa recordings. No one is spared with conservatives, Republicans, evangelists, Michael Jackson, former Surgeon General Koop, Ronald Reagan (and his entire administration), and Jesse Jackson all becoming targets.

With five horns in support, all of them Mothers veterans, all of the songs are great. That big, fat sound really comes through on the jazz standard "Stolen Moments" and its excellent Walt Fowler trumpet solo. This track segues to a guest appearance by Sting, who takes a direct shot at Jimmy Swaggart, and then performs "Murder By Numbers" with the band providing a smooth jazz backing.

Other great tracks are "Any Kind of Pain," with a fantastic FZ solo; "Elvis Has Just Left the Building" for its great lyrics; "The Untouchables" theme for the anti-Reagan administration rant; "Outside Now" for the extended FZ solo, and; the delightful throwback to the "Fillmore East: June 1971" album with "What Kind of Girl?"

Overall, this is a wonderfully representative live Zappa CD. It captures most of the feel, and definitely the wit and anger of Frank's mid-80s interactions with and responses to his sanctimonious detractors. A must for your Zappa collection, and a great addition to any music lover's collection.
There are a lot of new songs on this disc that had not been recorded by Zappa prior to (and naturally not after) his world-tour in 1988 (his last). This is the first out of three albums ["Broadway the Hard Way", "The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life", and "Make a Jazz Noise Here"] to be released with material only from the (4+ month long) 1988 tour. It generally features the least amount of guitar-solos of the three, but consists musically of everything from country to jazz. There's even a rap number, which musically (considering it's the late 80's) is pretty up to date.
Incidentally, some numbers from this tour can also be found on "You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore" volumes 4 and 6.
There are no overdubs on this album, but a lot of the songs are cut together, part by part, from different shows. "Why Don't You Like Me?", for instance, is cut together (at seven points) from four different shows, and the 9+ minute "Jesus Thinks you're A Jerk" is cut together (at 22 points), from 12 different shows. At times the cutting is very noticeable (and hurts the rhythm section), but for the most part it works. There are only six songs that are performed uncut from beginning to end. One of them is Sting's "Murder by Numbers", performed by the man himself - yes, during a concert in Chicago on March 3rd, Sting joined Zappa and his band on stage, and sang this number. What is amazing about this band is that they knew 190+ songs of which Zappa could call off any at any point. During the tour the band performed 116 songs in front of an audience - here are 17. A warning, though: You may have heard "Why don't you like me?" and "What Kind of Girl?" before without knowing it; they're renamed (because of new lyrics) versions of "Tell Me You Love Me" and "What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are?"
Five years ago, when this albums was new to me--and I didn't know anything about the recording-details--I'd have given it 5/5 stars. Now, after an endless amount of careful listening I can't say I'd feel comfortable giving it more than 3.5 or 4 ...hard to decide, because it IS a great band!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Guitar

Guitar
The sequel to Shut Up and Play Your Guitar, Guitar is a two-part collection of improvisations by Frank Zappa, assembled from live recordings between 1979 and 1984. Zappa's bands from this period provides a solid foundation for what is essentially a one-man show, as Zappa carves his "air sculptures" from fluid, lyrical guitar notes. The backdrops vary from rock to blues to free-form embellishments to Zappa-defined reggae all the while giving the soloist plenty of room to explore his instrument. While it lacks the interplay between Zappa and drummer Vinnie Colliuta (he appears on only one track of this set) that made its predecessor so remarkable, Guitar contains more than enough of Zappa's musicianship to carry the day, making this an essential part of any Zappa or guitar fan's collection. This is awesome stuff. Two hours and ten minutes of intense and relentless fret abuse. No vocals, no tunes, just guitar solos and nothing else. "Guitar" was more than good enough when it was first released in 1988, but this expanded edition with extra tracks is a considerable improvement on the original. The material is culled from live performances recorded over a five year period (1979 to 1984), and from the opening chords of "Sexual harassment in the workplace" (the album also features some of Frank's most creative titles) it just builds and builds with no pause for breath. Although the sound isn't always 100% perfect, I much prefer the raw spontaneity of "Guitar" to the more refined approach of its predecessor "Shut up and play your guitar", which seems positively weak in comparison. Frank didn't recommend it for children or Republicans, but to the rest of us this is one of the truly essential Zappa albums.

Mothers of Prevention

Mothers of Prevention
The impetus behind this album was, of course, the PMRC hearings on labelling/censoring offensive rock lyrics. The album is a mixed bag of material -- 5 studio tracks with a band, 3 synclavier compositions, and 2 collage tracks. They're somewhat hapharzadly thrown together, making the album extremely disjointed -- but there is a lot of great material on this album, nevertheless.

The opener, "I Don't Even Care," is a waste of 5 minutes. Its essentially a groove set down in studio by Zappa's band, with "I don't even care" sung in the background while Johnny "Guitar" Watson (not credited?) ad libs some lines. No solo, though you keep waiting for one. The song goes nowhere and is extremely repetitive.

Then follows 3 synclavier compositions, "One Man One Vote," "Little Beige Sambo," and "Aerobics in Bondage." These are pretty good. "One Man One Vote" is the least interesting, but the other two are extremely worthy compositions that measure up to the best material on Jazz From Hell.

The next 4 tracks are all Zappa classics that rank among his best work. "We're Turning Again" is a hilarious swipe at hippie culture, brilliantly arranged with a great hook. There's a great re-mix of this, and "Yo Cats" on the Have I Offended Somebody? compilation. "Alien Orifice" is a jaw-dropper. Get the Make A Jazz Noise Here album to hear the '88 band perform this sucker live! Zappa at his best.

"Yo Cats" is a great Ike Willis crooner, taking a shot at professional musicians. "What's New In Baltimore" is the best track on the album -- rarely can Zappa's work be desribed as "beautiful," but the opening guitar/percussion run on this song deserves the charge. The solo is one of Zappa's greatest.

"Porn Wars" and "H.R. 2911" (a bonus track) are both sound collages, mixing sound effects, synclavier, guitar, and looping the taped hearings of the PMRC in congress. Its amusing -- especially the extra clips from the people in the piano from the Lumpy Gravy album (one of my favorites!). Also, you'll get to hear Al Gore profess to be a Mothers fan, which is PRICELESS. But it drags on far too long.

Doesn't work as an album, since it has no cohesive direction, but some of the material on this album is great.