Thursday, April 26, 2007

Frank Zappa - The Yellow Shark - 320 CBR

The Yellow Shark was a fitting epitaph to the music of Frank Zappa. Old pieces and new performed by the 'Ensemble Modern': and a superb job they made of it too. Favourites like 'Dog Breath', 'Uncle Meat' and 'The Be-Bop Tango' are given new life in their orchestral guise. Of the new songs 'Outrage At Valdez' is my favourite. A very sombre piece of music, but a beautiful theme, played with such feeling. Of course there is always room for a little bit of silliness, and 'Food Gathering...' and 'Welcome To The United States' offer a little light relief from the 'Serious' compositions. It's also great to hear 'Exercise 4' here. An unreleased gem from 1973, it's very short, but adds a great end to another old classic 'A Pound For A Brown'. The very best is left until last. Notably 'G-Spot Tornado'. An almost impossibly fast synclavier song reworked for the orchestra: it is a mind blowing rendition, and brings a great album to a superlative end. An Excellent album.

This is "THE" farewell record; he recorded it a few months before he died. Being this a postumous record, it shows the gradiosity of a man that crossed almost every boundary from rock, jazz, fusion, prog, punk, avant-garde and modern classic, to contemporary music. Being such a master derives into a greatest position in music, it doesn't matter what people say about him... just take a look at his tablatures and you find out the complexity of his compositions and arragenments. This record has been featured into the classical realm and has joined several sceptics into prog rock and viceseversa. The music is just fantastic. a collection of past gems and new compositions, but the main event, is when Frank Zappa himself (ill, and tired because of the cancer) conducts the "food gathering in post industrial america" and "welcome to the united states" pieces, a magnificent performance of jokes, theater and music, along a protest to the inmmigration system in the USA. A masterpiece to the hard listener, hey, is not an "easy listening" record, it may take at least 3 times to achive it, but worth the risk.
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Frank Zappa - Orchestral Favorites - 320 CBR

Progressive/Classical albums with orchestra have always impressed me! It is the case here: there are numerous musicians involved with tons of different instruments: trombone, trumpet, violin, viola, cello, oboe, flute, TONS of miscellaneous percussions (small bells, cowbells and xylophone among others), French horn, bass trombone, piano and harmonica. There are outstanding horns & strings arrangements, not too broad: it sounds contemporary classical music. Bozzio's drums are really impressive, very scattered. Zappa's guitar is present mainly on the catchy "Duke of prunes"; the bass does not take all the room too. You think it is not enough? You guessed right! I forgot the keyboards, which are excellent too, not too omnipresent in order to let the acoustic instruments give the show. The compositions consist in EXTREMELY changing & elaborated patterns, never the same, very loaded of instruments mentioned above. The album contains very structured, nervous, dissonant and complex music. You have to listen to "Bogus Pomp": one of the best songs from Zappa: it deserves 6 stars! "Bogus Pomp" contains TONS of brief, complex, catchy and addictive airs put together through nicely dissonant textures: the ensemble remains EXTREMELY structured and pleasant to listen: it is so easy and satisfying to entirely listen this track. It is like to listen to a fantastic told story. "Pedro's Dowry" is much more dissonant and colder than the other tracks, despite you can feel all the cohesion and structure involved: however it will be harder for the average listener to get addicted. "Strictly Genteel" sounds like a catchy army anthem (loud horns). It should need more than one listening to fully appreciate the ensemble.
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Monday, April 9, 2007

Frank Zappa - Sleep Dirt - 320 CBR

This album has an interesting history. According to Zappa, the material on it was supposed to be part of a four-disc set called Läther, which was split into individual albums when Warner Brothers refused to release it in its original format, fearing lack of sales due to the high price of a quadruple-album. This may or may not be true, as when Läther finally was released after Frank's death, it didn't exactly match the four discs that supposedly came from it (Zappa in New York, Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favorites). But regardless of how the album came about, Sleep Dirt remains one of Zappa's better works.
The original vinyl release was entirely instrumental, with styles ranging from the howling feedback of "Filthy Habits" to the lounge jazz of "Flam Bay" to the pomp of "Regyptian Strut" to the mellow acoustic guitars of the title track to the lengthy avant power trio of "Ocean". With the first CD reissue, Zappa added a female vocalist to three tracks ("Flam Bay", "Spider of Destiny" and "Time is Money") who sings lyrics taken from Frank's unrealized sci-fi opera Hunchentoot. Fans have been griping ever since about the lost instrumentals, but the release of Läther made them available again (although in shorter versions).
All in all, this disc (along with the related albums) are prime Zappa and are definitely worth picking up. Or you could just buy the three-CD release of Läther, but if you do you may end up going back and buying the individual albums anyway. Why? Läther doesn't include the song "Sleep Dirt", which gives a rare view of Zappa's mellower side, and the version of "Ocean" on this CD is five minutes longer than the one on Läther. In New York and Orchestral Favorites also include extra material not found on Läther. Ah, hell with it, just buy 'em all.

In my youthful Zappa explorations, I became increasingly wary of later releases, and glossed this one over, among a few others. A few years ago, I read a review of this slab, which touted it as holding true to some of Zappa's greatest instrumental work. Since I don't remember where I read that, I'll repeat it here for others who were unaware:
This is a great Zappa album.
As became the norm for his late '70s work, Zappa compiled this album from recordings of various line-ups, set to tape over the course of years; in this case 1974-76. If you find the vocals in Zappa's work often annoying and obtrusive, you won't be surprised by Harris' work here. Her voice and style are right in line with Frank's and Ray's and Ike's, although a tad less goofy. The four tracks featuring her vocals aren't completely forgettable, and are certainly not out of place. Sometimes operatic, sometimes loungey, she provides some of the best vocals ever set to Zappa's work. However, the true gems here are the first and last tracks.
"Filthy Habits" teams Zappa and Bozzio with Dave Parlato on bass. Parlato comes in with a dark and haunting bass line, which shifts key and cadence occasionally, but is basically repeated throughout the song. As the other half of the rhythm section, Bozzio is given carte blanche by this repetition to go absolutely ape-shit on drums. And he does. Over all that, Frank sets up some keyboards for filler and then goes to town with multiple guitar tracks. He combines a Hot Rats like style with some distorted feedback, and pollutes the bass line with astounding grace. This easily could've been on one of the Guitar comps.
"The Ocean is the Ultimate Solution" is also driven by Bozzio's drums, but Patrick O'Hearn is brought in to add an explosive dynamic to the bass. These three present an instrumental orgy with sonic climaxes happening all over the place, leaving you to either clean up or sleep in the wet spot afterward. Bozzio shuffles along, conducting percussive experiments with bonus snare work and a flashy kick drum pattern in 5/8 that resolves the chaos from time to time. For the first half of the song, Frank's comping and strumming only ceases momentarily to let O'Hearn bust out some super fancy bass riffage. The liners only credit him with bass, but it sounds like an acoustic double bass and brings Mingus to mind. After O'Hearn's explosions, Zappa gains a partner in another double guitar track, and adds an extensive solo throughout the second half of the song. With a few changes in pace and energy, this song ebbs and flows all the way to the disc's delta, where it quietly fades out, leaving resonance in your head and your hand reaching toward the play button to repeat the whole thing again.
I may be biased toward his instrumental compositions, but I wouldn't hesitate to call these two of my favorite Zappa songs ever.
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Frank Zappa - Baby Snakes - 320 CBR

Beginning with an introduction from future Zappa backing guitarist Warren Cuccurullo about his New York shows, it breaks into a ripping version of Baby Snakes (which is essentially the same version from Sheik Yerbouti). Titties 'N Beer has always been a favorite of mine mainly because I love the vocal improvs between Zappa and Bozzio. This version is quite nice, but there are versions of it available. Special credit goes to Adrian Belew who would wear a dress during this part and perform the "female" vocal. I'm quite fond of the version of The Black Page #2, the synthesizers are quite lush and they make up for the missing horns quite well. Visually during this piece they are having a dance contest (which brings some great humor while watching it).Jones Crusher was never a terribly great track even on Sheik Yerbouti, but I like this one. Belew's vocal is dynamic and Zappa's guitar work is great. Disco Boy might be the only song on this album that I like better than the original version. The original was too guitar driven, and this one has the perfect mix of guitar and great keyboards from Peter Wolf and Tommy Mars. Ed Mann is also a treat on this song. Dinah-Moe-Humm gets a nice sped up version and Zappa really rips through it vocally. The final piece on this album is Punky's Whips, which is one of my all time favorite Zappa songs. This version has no real differences from the other versions of it, except Don Pardo doesn't give the great introduction, and the horns are missing. But other than that, this is a ripping version that has a great Zappa solo at the end.In the end, this is a nice audio collection, but on the whole the original versions of these songs are better, there are a few exceptions of course (Disco Boy). The other thing is he had a lot better songs to put on here. Where's the Camarillo Brillo/Muffin Man medley, San Bern'dino, Black Napkins, or City of Tiny Lites? Other than that, this is a nice collection that is fun and there's a lot of humor here. Good, but not essential.
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Frank Zappa - Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch - 320 CBR

Impossible guitars! The record starts with 2 rhythmic & complex "pop" rock songs "No not now" and "Valley girl". On "No not now", the repetitive, funny & crazy highly pitched vocals sound a bit like the ones on "Wind up working in a gas station" (Zoot allures). On "Valley girl", the girl who narrates the story is nobody else than Zappa's daughter Moon: she has a very good voice, with this exaggerated accent from Encino. Then follows one of the craziest track ever recorded by Frank: "I come from nowhere": I've never heard a so much complex bass: it is rhythmic & dissonant at the same time! It definitely takes many many listens to REALLY understand it! Like if it was not enough, the lead vocals on it are completely deranged! Finally, this track ends with an impossible guitar solo, absolutely gross, disgraceful and monolithic: but the accompanying bass and drums are so elaborated and loaded that you are obliged to find it at least good! The other side is completely different: we are talking about one of the most complex song from Zappa: "The drowning witch": the percussions are ABSOLUTELY outstanding! The track is all the time rhythm and melody changing, and what is the most impressive is to realize all that perfect synchronization of all the instruments. The first guitar solo is very bizarre and impossible to play: Yngwie Malmsteen is very melodic and catchy compared to that! Then the track continues with an awesome percussions exhibition: thanks God, the new involved guitar solo is a bit more comprehensible! The next track "Envelope" is very similar, so that those 2 tracks can be considered as one. Finally, the last track is more accessible & anthemic: the woman and man sing with a semi- opera voice; the overall sound and style of this track are a bit like on the "Tinsel town rebellion" album, especially the keyboards which emulate horns.
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Frank Zappa - Apostrophe' - 320 CBR

Great Googly Moogly! Hardcore fans probably have other favorites, but a newcomer to the ZAPPA world could do a lot worse than start with this album. Continuing the approach that worked wonders on "Over- nite Sensation", Frank keeps up the bent humor and rock-pop accessibility (relatively, of course) to balance the instrumental prowess and compositional intricacies. The opening suite is one of the greatest musical interpretations of a dream sequence- surreal, funny, full of strange references, compositional left turns, and red herrings (or, rather, mud sharks). "Cosmik Debris" is a classic sleazy track with incredible performances; if for some strange reason the sounds of Jean- Luc Ponty don't impress you, how about Tina Turner and her backup singers? "Excentrifugal Forz" is a "Hot Rats" leftover, but sounds more at home here, providing a good jazzy contrast with the rest of the album. "Apostrophe" is simply outstanding, a funky, heavy jam- even if Zappa and Jack Bruce had a difficult time working together, the result is on a par with ZAPPA's better rock jams. "Uncle Remus" is a portrait of the conflicted emotions of the black man of the era; I can't verify its authenticity, but it is one of my favorite examples of Frank's less bizarre character portraits. "Stink -foot" returns us to classic over-the-top territory- a song about bromidrosis featuring a dialogue from a dog. It's also a great slow bluesey way to wrap up the album. If you've never heard Frank or want to start a collection? This will be a necessity. Is it for everyone? No...but if you like him even a little, you'll like this- after all, "The crux of the biscuit is the apostrophe."
Apostrophe, along with a select few others, remains one of Zappa's greatest works. The album opens with the hilarious song cycle of "Don't Eat That Yellow Snow", "Nanook Rubs It", "St. Alfonzo's Pankake Breakfast", and "Father O'blivion". While showing some interesting musical ideas, the real strength of this lies in the humorous lyrics about a guy who gets 'yellow snow' rubbed in his eyes. There are other songs showcasing Zappa's musicianship, such as "Excentrifugal Forz", but the best track would have to be "Apostrophe", a stunning instrumental with Jack Bruce appearing on bass guitar. All in all, Zappa has managed to craft another hit, arguably surpassing his previous effort, "Over-nite Sensation". Both of these albums are highly reccommended as a noteworthy introduction to Zappa.
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Frank Zappa - Over-Nite Sensation - 320 CBR

Frank Zappa has to be considered the best rock bandleader in history because he never failed to surround himself with the cream of the crop and produce music that was not only complex but also exhilarating at the same time. But the big attraction for me was Frank’s overriding satiric wit and his uncanny ability to lampoon his own generation. I remember going to the record store with my buddy Glenn sometime in 1967 where he bought “Freak Out” by the Mothers of Invention and I bought the debut of Buffalo Springfield. I thought Glenn’s album was too weird and he thought my album was too tame. Nonetheless, despite my naive reservations I kept Zappa in the corner of my ear, sampling his underground concoctions from time to time. Then, in 1973, Frank and The Mothers suddenly started getting FM airplay with this album. He didn’t sell out; it’s just that the music on “Over-nite Sensation” was accessible enough for the public at large to digest and that allowed his humorous observations to finally break through.In order to fully appreciate his genius you have to keep in mind that southern California harbors some of the strangest mindsets in the known world and Zappa was born and fully immersed in that eccentric corner of mankind. (I lived there for almost 3 years in the late 70s and will never forget the crazy but loveable characters I met.) With that in mind it’s no wonder that people’s preoccupation with sex is a major theme in three of the songs. “Camarillo Brillo” takes on would-be mystics who just want to be seductresses with lyrics like “She said she was a magic mama/and she could throw a mean Tarot.” “Dirty Love” assails kinky fantasies that can even involve Poodles, crooning “Give me your dirty love/like a pink donation/to the dragon in your dreams.” And there’s the ultimate groupie epic “Dinah-Moe Hum” in which she challenges the rock star with the offer that can’t be refused. Despite the scandalous subject matter it must be pointed out that not one single curse or filthy word is uttered on this album. Everything is conveyed by innuendo, which is funnier by far, and it certainly frustrated the censors no end. The ever-popular television medium gets a punch in the gut on “I’m the Slime” where Frank intones devilishly “I may be vile and pernicious/but you can’t look away/I make you think I’m delicious/with the stuff that I say.” On “Fifty-fifty” he employs some guy named Ricky Lancelotti to make fun of self-important, opinionated rock and roll idols as he rasps “I figure the odds be fifty-fifty/I just might have something to say.” (Some things never change.) On “Zomby Woof” our seemingly insatiable need to be frightened by imaginary monsters fuels inspired lines like “I might snatch you up screamin’ through the window all nekkid and do it to you up on the roof” because he’s “Telling you all the Zomby troof/here I’m is/the Zomby Woof!” And, last but not least, it seemed that the aim of a lot of delusional dead-end-job employees living in the city at that time was to leave the hectic urban life behind and relocate to the rustic countryside and get back to nature. “Montana” still makes me laugh out loud with absurd statements like “Well, I just might grow me some bees” and “By myself I wouldn’t have no boss/but I’d be raisin’ my lonely dental floss” thereby becoming a “mental toss flycoon.” Priceless!Beneath all this keen satire, though, lies a bedrock of great performances by some of the best musicians of that day. On “Fifty-fifty,” for example, George Duke turns in a terrific organ solo and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty shines brightly. Frank, of course, tears it up frequently with his madman guitar leads that defy interpretation or analysis. You can also tell that everybody involved is having a grand old time. So, if you need a break from prog bands who sometimes take themselves and life way too seriously, look no further than Mr. Zappa and his fun-loving yet talented friends who had a ball razzing society’s obvious hypocrisies while constructing a classic album.

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Frank Zappa - The Grand Wazoo - 320 CBR

The last of the great instrumental burlesques, at least until Orchestral Favorites surfaced in 1979. "The Grand Wazoo" was recorded during FRANK ZAPPA's recovery from injuries sustained following an on-stage assault (so much for soothing the savage breast), thus entering into the top of two rather select musical subgroups: the recovery recordings (besting both ENO's Discreet Music and Dylan's The Basement Tapes, to name a few) and program music dealing with the clash of different musical cultures (progeny of the classic cartoon that includes Patrick Moraz' eponymous effort and The Residents' Tune of Two Cities). Drawing musical dialogue from the classical and rock cousins of the jazz family, THE MOTHERS make the sort of music that'll just curl the toes of anyone who enjoyed the mock-classical adventures of Waka/Jawaka, Weasels and "Burnt Weeny Sandwich". ZAPPA has proved adept at writing program music (200 Motels, Joe's Garage, Thing-Fish), though "The Grand Wazoo" differs in its instrumental approach; only the opening "For Calvin (And His Next Two Hitch-Hikers)" features vocals, and it's not empty praise to point out this might be the most perfect amalgam of vocal and instrumental music in all of ZAPPAdom. The natural and seemingly effortless melange of instruments inhabit a unique world where rock, jazz and orchestral sounds meet in the middle of a saucepan and dance to the hot whims of the master composer in convalescence. Yet ZAPPA is careful to make sure that each of the songs retains a distinct flavor, from the seamy tones of ""The Grand Wazoo"" to the comic "Cletus Awreetus-Awrightus" to the epic riff that underpins "Eat That Question" (one I'd put on a pedestal with the closing theme to Gentle Giant's "Three Friends"). Anyway, I could go on for pages -- I'm that enthusiastic about this album.
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Frank Zappa - One Size Fits All - 320 CBR

The pinnacle of his jazz-rock work of the early '70s, One Size Fits All boasts some of the most memorable songs of Frank Zappa's career performed by one of the most beloved Mothers of Invention lineups ever assembled. This cast of musicians' musicians--including George Duke, Ruth Underwood, and Johnny 'Guitar' Watson--blasts through the groovy sci-fi world of Inca Roads, the hyper-charged blues rock of "Pajama People," the lounge majesty of "Sofa" and concert mainstays like "San Ber'dino" and "Florentine Pogan." An integral part of any Zappa Collection.
This album is the culmination of Zappa's work of the 70's. Its predecessors: "Over-Nite Sensation" and "Apostrophe" were fabulous, but had not matured to the degree of excellence as this album did. Zappa assembled a group of veteran musicians. The refined and consumed madness of its jazz-rock sound makes this album a monumental treasure. "Inca Roads" transports us in Zappa's Jazz oriented mind where the lyrics and the drum-beats share the same tight-rope, then its guitar solo confirmed that once again Zappa was not only a superb musician, but he was also full of surprises and charms. The four songs: "Po-Jama People," "Florentine Pogen," "San Ber'dino," and "Andy" prove how Zappa was such a sarcastic and iconoclastic son-of-a-gun. Johnny "Guitar" Watson's vocal contribution in two songs makes this album even more special. In closing, "One Size Fits All" may also be described as Zappa's signature: "Music is the Best."
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Sunday, April 8, 2007

Remember the archives.

Please remember to check them. Thank you. Now Easter is soon over, so I need to do what I do for a living. That means I might not have the time to upload as much as I want on a day by day basis. Anyways, please remember to check back, I will keep on posting.

Frank Zappa - Jazz From Hell - 320 CBR

Frank Zappa created here a work probably made of 90% Synclavier. Mostly everything, bass, drums, percussions, keyboards are emulated by the Synclavier. This makes very nervous, loaded, complex and dynamic tracks. He partly started this Synclavier trend on the "Perfect stranger" and "Francesco Zappa" albums, and he enriched its bass and percussive digital elements on the "Mothers of prevention" album, which is more representative of the involved sound & style here. The sound is absolutely outstanding, and it almost sounds like MIDI files compositions!!! It may sound dissonant and repulsive for the traditional Zappa's purists, but it remains a solid complex jazzy performance. "While You Were Art II" is absolutely RESTLESS for your both ears: it consists in miscellaneous dissonant & extremely pleasant notes almost coming randomly from both channels: the strength is that everything forms an extraordinary scattered + interlocking combination of synchronized fast sets of notes, partly sounding percussive. "St.Etienne" is the only track to be recorded not using a Synclavier: a crazy paused guitar solo with some accompanying low profile music, like the "Ancient armaments" or "The drowning witch (around the fourth minute)" tracks. "Massaggio Galore" has probably the most complex repetitive sequencer I've never heard; the voices sounds on it are strange. The title for "G-spot tornado" is appropriate: some keyboards remind me a nervous & emotional breathing women! Needless to say that the album is absolutely not accessible, although it received a Grammy Award!

Please remember, "There is no hell, there is only France."

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Frank Zappa - Bongo Fury - 320 CBR

This one's a real rarity in the FZ catalog for a number of reasons, the first and most obvious one being the partnership with Donnie Van V...the Captain. More important, however, is the rare hit and miss ratio of two of Zappa's trademark styles, those being comedy and no-nonsense, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it guitar solos. In many of Franks' releases, one style ultimately wins out over the other...the comedy is top-heavy or it's an afterthought. Not here. This is Zappa's L.A. Pachuco doo-wop humor married to some of the most talented musicians he ever assembled under one roof. In addition to Frank's own fretboard pyrotechnics, we get Denny Walley on slide guitar. Add Napoleon Murphy Brock, George Duke, and Terry Bozzio and you have one of the greatest all-time "stamina" bands. I saw the Berkeley Community Theater leg of the "Bongo Fury" tour...unfortunately, Beefheart never shared the stage with FZ, but he did perform a mighty tasty "Orange Claw Hammer." Zappa tied his hair back into a ponytail and proclaimed "this is SERIOUS music" as he launched into an extended, brutal "Black Napkins." Brock prowled and stomped and roamed the stage like a werewolf under a full moon, honking brilliant solos from his sax. The same power is found on "Bongo Fury." In "Advance Romance," Zappa invites the Armadillo World Headquarters audience to "look what she did to Denny right now," as rips a beautifully aggressive solo, which blends into a firestorm from Zappa himself. In "Muffin Man"...well, what can I say? As impossible and ridiculous as it might be to attempt a "10 best FZ solos of all time" list, if you COULD, there'd have to be room for this one. From the "Mr. Tambourine Man" reference in "Debra Kadabra" to the interspersed weirdness of Captain Beefheart, this is one of the richest, most complex, most rewarding FZ albums of all time. If you are a fan of "Guitar Frank," grab this one.
Good night Austin Texas, wherever you are................
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Frank Zappa - Hot Rats - 320 CBR

Recorded in August and September of 1969, Frank Zappa's Hot Rats is one of the most influential albums of the jazz fusion genre; in my opinion, it is a pillar that stands alongside Bitches Brew, Soft Machine's Third and a handful of others as the best and most important albums that the genre ever produced. Hot Rats is so strong and so universal that it transcends the catalog of its maker — this is widely known as "the Frank Zappa album for people who don't like Frank Zappa." I think that it also transcends the genre and is a great pick for people who don't normally listen to much jazz fusion.
Hot Rats is the first record that Zappa made after breaking up the original Mothers of Invention. Zappa retained the services of multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood and recorded each of the six tracks with a different configuration of guest musicians (one of whom, violinist Don "Sugarcane" Harris, would become a permanent part of Zappa's band for a couple of years). The notorious Captain Beefheart performed the album's only vocals, which consisted of a few verses on "Willie The Pimp."
I think that Hot Rats is a great record and I would rank it among the top 20 rock albums that I've ever heard. I could go on about it for a long time, but because there's already plenty of valuable commentary on this page, I'll be as brief as possible. Hot Rats is the first studio album on which Frank Zappa really showcased his guitar playing skills and, as far as I know, it is the first album of its kind. Nevertheless, the music on Hot Rats is about so much more than Zappa's solos: I think these pieces — especially the three long tracks plus "Peaches en Regalia," are flat-out great compositions. Anybody who objects to the sides of Zappa's musical personality that include social satire, perverse humor, schizophrenic musical collages, forays into avant-garde classical composition — or simply his smarmy attitude and general air of cynicism — will find that, save for the ribald lyrics to "Willie the Pimp," none of these things are present on Hot Rats. The music can be tough and visceral in spots but there is an overarching grandness, beauty and optimism to these pieces that is downright shocking, considering the source. This is an album that I like to play loud with the windows and doors open on one of the first really warm days of spring.
Zappa recovered from this bout of relative sincerity in short order — within a year he had assembled the Flo and Eddie incarnation of his band and toured the world playing jokey music and acting out groupie sex skits onstage. Zappa would revisit jazz fusion at various times throughout his career, but for many fans of Zappa's instrumental music, it never got any better than these glorious forty-seven minutes from 1969.

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Saturday, April 7, 2007

Zappa - Absolutely Free - 320 CBR

Majority opinion seems to hold that We're Only In It For The Money is the best of the early Mothers of Invention albums, but Absolutely Free has always been my favorite. It's basically two suites of songs, which flow together to make sides one and two of the album. Both sides have an overarching theme of social commentary, with side one using somewhat surreal lyrics about fruits and vegetables, and side two using more direct comments about American society. Sandwiched between the two sides are two bonus tracks added for the CD release - "Big Leg Emma" and "Why Don'tcha Do Me Right?". These were the A and B sides of a single put out around the same time as this album, while Frank still had hopes of having a hit single.
One highlight of side one is "The Duke of Prunes", which seems like a silly little Duke of Earl parody here, but reveals itself for the fine composition that it is when the vocals are replaced with orchestral instruments on the Orchestral Favorites album. "Call Any Vegetable" became a concert staple, while "Invocation..." is a fantastic, high-energy seven minute jam track.
Side two is framed by the "America Drinks" tracks, sounding like they're being performed in a bar - the first by an avant garde rock group, the second by a smarmy lounge jazz singer. In between, we get commentary on violent war toys for children, the pointlessness of high school, and Suzy Creamcheese breaking out of her cameo role on the first album to get an entire song named after her. Then there's "Brown Shoes Don't Make It", which is usually hailed as an early Zappa masterpiece. While I agree that musically it's pretty amazing, the lyrics are one of the few places where I think Zappa went too far. It feels like a revenge piece against the authorities who set the young Frank up on a phony pornography charge and threw him in jail for a while. The song accuses authority figures of being morally corrupt, engaging in everything from pedophilia to incest. In particular, the part about "smother my daughter in chocolate syrup and strap her on again" makes me wonder how Moon Unit feels about the song.
But all in all this is a great (if slightly dated sounding) Zappa album that should appeal to most adventurous prog fans with a sense of humor. If you're thinking of exploring the music of the original Mothers, start with this album or We're Only In It For The Money.

Every year when the Halloween season approaches I am drawn to Absolutely Free. I bought this album in the fall about ten years ago; I liked it immediately and played it often. On Halloween of that year, I happened to have it on the stereo when my doorbell rang. It was a kid (dressed up like a cowboy) and his father. I was a student at the time, living in a cheap apartment located behind a storefront in a non-residential neighborhood and I had not expected any trick-or-treaters. I apologetically explained that I had no candy, but I invited them in and was able to find an unopened can of beer in the back of my refrigerator for the dad. "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" was on, and the dad said something about the "scary music" I was playing.
I hadn't considered this album from that angle, but it was a good point. Plastic people? Talking vegetables? Vampires? High school? The Johnson administration? "A dozen gray attorneys?" This was definitely some scary shit, and that's not even getting to how the collaged organization of the music and its genuinely unsettling distorted sounds and demented vocals can give the listener the feel of being inside a carnival freakhouse. Whenever I'm at home to hand out candy on Halloween, I play Absolutely Free all night. It always draws comments from the parents — mostly negative ones, which means that this relic from the 1960s hasn't lost its potency and can still disturb up-tight "squares" of all stripes.
I rank Absolutely Free among a handful of the greatest rock albums ever made. A complete exposition of my thoughts about the record would run many pages long, and that is well beyond the space available here. So here are a few observations. First, Absolutely Free is an underappreciated landmark in the history of rock. Recorded in November of 1966, it had no precedent in popular music other than for a couple of songs on the flip side of the band's own debut album, Freak Out. 1966 witnessed the first trickle of records indicating that rock was a maturing artistic force — at the forefront there was Revolver, Pet Sounds and a few Bob Dylan albums — but Absolutely Free combined greater musical sophistication with studio technology experimentation to an extent that was well beyond what the Beatles and Beach Boys were doing, and while the socially-conscious lyrics weren't as eloquent, subtle or imagistic as Dylan's, their messages were just pertinent and they worked with the music on a level of wit and intelligence that I think was the equal of Dylan's. Were it not for the overwhelming influence that King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King cast over 1970s progressive rock, I would probably consider Absolutely Free to be the first progressive rock album.
Secondly, the album is striking in that it was written as a social protest for a particular time and place, yet addressed its themes on a general enough level that it now transcends that time and place — unlike the much ballyhooed follow-up, 1968's We're Only In It For the Money, which is so immutably set in 1967 Southern California that it's difficult to get much out of the album without first prepping one's self on its many period references. Governmental hypocrisy, corporate greed, insincerity, plasticity, consumerism, the idiocy of high school, the quiet desperation of the life of the average schmo... this stuff, on the other hand, is universal. And rather than trying to heal society's ills by building a better tomorrow (the utopian aim of the late-1960s counterculture which, once it failed, ironically provided the fertilizer for greater satire and postmodernism in rock) the Mothers simply cut out the middle man and lampooned their targets right from the start. At the time, this approach was criticized by some as being too cynical but, for better or for worse, Zappa and the Mothers now look like the forward-thinkers.
Of course, none of the above would amount to much if the music didn't sound so good. Whether or not The Mothers of Invention were the first post-modern rock band is a point for debate, but their method was undeniably post-modern. They created a breath-taking style that forged, among other things, doo-wop, fifties rock and roll, commercial jingles, experimental jazz and atonal symphonic music. Their obliteration of boundaries between "high" and "low" culture is the classic mandate of postmodernism and the album is exciting and viscous, from the deconstruction of "Louie Louie," ("Plastic People), to the Ventures-meet-Coltrane dueling solos on "Invocation & Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin," to the cut-and-paste surrealism of "Brown Shoes Don't Make It." And all points in between, like "Status Back Baby," a jab at bands like the Beach Boys for writing songs that glorified high school. I find every track on Absolutely Free to be fascinating — catchy, experimental, fun and funny. It's almost like a musical, so total and complete is the experience; it's one of those albums that I have to hear in its entirety if I put it on. In the words of Zappa himself: "What a pumpkin!"
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Frank Zappa - Joe's Domage - 320 CBR

After being thrown 15 feet off of the Rainbow Theater stage in London on December 10, 1971 by unstable concert attendee Trevor Howell, Frank Zappa spent the better part of the following winter and spring in rehearsals for what would become the Waka/Jawaka (1972) and Grand Wazoo (1972) platters and related live shows. Joe's Domage (2004) -- the second in a series of never-before-available material from the luminous Frank Zappa tape vaults -- gathers 50 minutes from these closed-door sessions, during which Zappa was confined to a wheelchair as he recuperated. The incident left the guitarist with some permanent damage, with a lower voice from a partially crushed larynx, and a fractured right leg which ended up shorter than the left, as referenced in the lyrics of "Zomby Woof" and "Dancin' Fool." Being off the road resulted in some of the Zappa's most involved fusions of jazz and rock. These rehearsals were most likely not meant for public consumption, having been sonically remastered from a decidedly lo-fi cassette. For all intents and purposes, this is an examination of the modular process that Zappa used when creating his extended works and intricately detailed compositions, including contributions from an impressive lineup of Zappa (guitar/spoken instructions), Tony Duran (guitar), Ian Underwood (organ), Sal Marquez (trumpet), Malcolm McNabb (trumpet), Kenny Shroyer (trombone), Tony Ortega (baritone sax), Aynsley Dunbar (drums) and Alex Dmochowski (bass) -- the latter often credited under the pseudonym Erroneous. Granted, the fidelity is distorted and typical of what a cassette from 1972 might sound like. However, tucked into the otherwise grungy audio and the incessant start/stop methodology of these preliminary run-throughs, Zappa's hands-on involvement becomes exceedingly evident to the lay person. He methodically teaches his highly advanced rhythms and time signatures with a definite and well-thought-out sense of the bigger picture. Fragments and in-progress snippets of "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary," "Big Swifty," "It Just Might Be a One-Shot Deal," "Blessed Relief," "Grand Wazoo" [aka "Think It Over"] and an "Interlude" that Zappaphiles refer to as "Twinkle Tits" are among the songs that would eventually surface from the music heard here in their primordial forms

Friday, April 6, 2007

Frank Zappa - Joe's Corsage - 320 CBR

While no specific designation has been given to Joe's Corsage (2004), the liner notes indicate that this is the debut of an "exciting new series". The title is undoubtedly a clever play on Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage (1979), but the ‘Joe' in this case is audio archivist Joe Travers, who has been involved with the Zappa Family Trust (ZFT) since the triple CD release Läther (1996). Granted, exceptions exist, however for the most part the earliest incarnations of the Mothers Of Invention (M.O.I.) are included here with Zappa (guitar/vocals), "Baby" Ray Collins (vocals/tambourine/harmonica), Roy Estrada (bass), and Jimmy Black (drums). "Pretty Pat" fittingly commences the proceedings with a brief interview clip as Zappa explains the evolution of the Mother's name to the M.O.I. prior to seminal readings of "Motherly Love" and "Plastic People" -- presented in a medley -- along beside "Anyway The Wind Blows" and "I Ain't Got No Heart". These late 1965 demos and are historically (if not musically) significant as the first recordings to have emerged featuring future Canned Heat guitarist, Henry Vestine (guitar), whose tenure with the rockin' teen combo lasted merely months. Although the selections predate Freak Out! (1966), aside from slight alterations to the respective arrangements -- especially notable during "Motherly Love" -- the songs are already fully formed. It is easy to hear what attracted Zappa to Vestine's earthy and bluesy guitar craft. The next three cuts capture the primary line-up as a live band on a driving cover of the Righteous Brothers' "My Babe" and a soulful workout on Marvin Gaye's "Hitch Hike". They are linked by a brief instrumental variation of the traditional "Wedding Dress Song" and "Handsome Cabin Boy" folk melodies. The sophisticated score would be revisited when Zappa worked up a studio version with Art Tripp (marimba, vibes), Don Preston (keyboards) and Jimmy Carl Black (drums), eventually surfacing on The Lost Episodes (1996) . Keen-eared listeners will detect that the distinct "Louie Louie" ending perfectly segues into the aforementioned "Hitch Hike". Kicking off the final batch is "I'm So Happy I Could Cry", a primordial incarnation of a tune that would resurface with new lyrics as "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance" on We're Only In It For The Money (1968), and reworked sans vocals for the ambitious Lumpy Gravy (1968). Both the doo-wop inspired "Go Cry On Somebody Else's Shoulder" as well as "How Could I Be Such A Fool?" are closer to their familiar counterparts with Zappa's guitar overdubs standing out as one of the distinguishing factors of these pre Freak Out! takes. The artist has the last word as "We Made Our Reputation Doing It That Way . . . " is a lengthier excerpt from an interview with Zappa detailing the methodology behind how the Mothers music was created. Albeit brief, Joe's Corsage is a hard-core enthusiasts dream, displaying the genesis of Zappa's genius in a rock and roll setting. Let's hope Travers continues to produce a multitude of further and equally diverse instalments.

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Frank Zappa - Burnt Weeny Sandwich - 320 CBR

This is an album that I have sadly underappreciated. For some reason, it's just one that I never get the urge to pull out and listen to. I have no idea why - it's a great CD of prime Zappa instrumentals, sandwiched in between two catchy doo-wop tunes.
"WPLJ" stands for White Port and Lemon Juice, a fact that the song's chorus makes perfectly clear. Originally by the Four Deuces, this cover version is repetitive but catchy - you'll find yourself singing the chorus long after the song is over. At the other end of the disc is "Valarie", a track that the Mothers often played in concert, and another cover song (originally by Jackie & the Starlites, although my CD's liner notes don't mention that). Any rumors that I named my daughter after the song Valarie are entirely false (my wife picked the name, and spelled it differently - I just approved of it because it was the name of a Zappa song ;-).
In between these two "pop" tracks is some serious instrumental music. The Igor who is boogying is Stravinsky, the inspiration for these brief, angular tunes. "Holiday In Berlin" is a great piece, with a main theme that is used on several Zappa albums. My favorite version is one with lyrics that describe the events that inspired the title - it appears on one of the Beat the Boots discs somewhere.
"Aybe Sea" is a nice little solo piano piece by Ian Underwood. I'm guessing on the original vinyl it was the last track on side one, but on the CD it acts as a perfect prelude to the lengthy instrumental work out of "Little House I Used to Live In". Another song that the Mothers perfected on the road, this studio version is just fantastic, mixing composed sections with extended solos and improvisation. It would later be given some fairly obscene lyrics when the Flo and Eddie era band performed it; I agree with one poster on who said he wished he had never heard the Fillmore album, so that he could listen to this version of "Little House" and not hear Flo and Eddie singing "my dick is a monster!" in his head. Anyway, this track also features smoking violin work by Sugar Cane Harris (who is also not credited in the CD liner notes - somebody really dropped the ball there).
At the end of "Little House" Zappa makes some quick replies to a heckler in the crowd. The guy shouts something like "Take off that f*cking uniform before it's too late!" (possibly talking to a security guard that can be heard trying to get people to get back in their seats), and Frank replies "Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform, don't kid yourself". The heckler continues shouting, and eventually Zappa just says "You'll hurt your throat. Stop it."
In summary - a worthwhile album for people who like Frank's serious, instrumental, proggy/jazzy side. And an album that I really should spend more time listening to myself.

You'll find the link in the comments.

Frank Zappa - We`re Only In It For The Money - 320 CBR

The Mothers of Invention answer the sentiments of the suits, the suburb dwellers, and flower children of the 60's with a big fat raspberry. Considered by many to be the Mothers' (and some would say Zappa's) best album, We're Only in it for the Money deals with harsh subject matter in a seemingly glib and light-hearted fashion (eventually a Zappa trademark), sparing no targets with catchy melodies and high-pitched vocals. Zappa applies the same aggressive studio techniques he did on Lumpy Gravy, creating a jarring collage of sound that still sounds avant-garde today. Highlights from this flawless album are numerous and include the hippie bashing "Who Needs thePeace Corps," the bedroom science of "Let's Make the Water Turn Black," the anthematic "Mother People," and the perfect payoff of "What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body?" Quite simply one of the best rock albums of all time.

Other than a butchered version of "Willie The Pimp" that a childhood friend used to sing around the neighborhood, my first exposure to Frank Zappa was his first foray into the Billboard charts -- 1974's "Apostrophe" and its hit(?) single "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow." Sure, I thought the song was funny and the musicianship impeccable, but it did not prepare me for this album. And while it may not have the same virtuoso performances of some of Zappa's later work (check out his guitar solo on "Muffin Man" from "Bongo Fury," for instance), I find this his most consistently rewarding work from start to finish (although "Hot Rats" runs a close second).
Zappa has never been one to shy away from thumbing his nose as anyone, and with a honker the size of his, he can do a lot of nose-thumbing. While maintaining his disdain of middle class values that he established on his previous albums ("Freak Out!" and "Absolutely Free"), FZ goes one better and jeers at the very audience that was supposed to buy his albums. His jabs at all the "Flower Punks" from north of his LA base are absolutely brutal, exposing their values as little more than hedonistic extensions of those of their parents. Just take a listen to the absolutely creepy "Let's Make The Water Turn Black" and tell me who gives you the heebie-jeebies more: Kenny & Ronnie or their parents (Daddy Dinky and "mama with her apron & her pad feeding all the boys at Ed's Cafe")? Plus, Zappa gives us two (count 'em!) versions of "What's The Ugliest Part Of your Body?" and the downright silly "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance." Want more? There's plenty!
Surprisingly, this album has aged extremely well, even though its hippiedom themes are rooted in 60s music parodies and experimental sound collages. The reason is because true art is timeless, as is great humor. This album has both, and is a must for every collection.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Frank Zappa - The Man From Utopia - 320 CBR

Frank Zappa's 1983 album titled The Man From Utopia is a bit of an underrated piece in my opinon. It's not a masterpiece by any means and it isn't even close to the best album Zappa released in the 80s. Still, though, there are some really fun pieces on it interspersed with some odd semi-sung vocal monologues that are really more random than anything else. The album does yield some nice instrumentals, though, and songs like Cocaine Decisions and SEX are fun pieces that have some fun instrumentation and vocals. But I'll get about to talking about them a bit later. This would also be the last Zappa album to have a guest appearance from one of the original Mothers of Invention in the enigmatic Roy Estrada, who provides a lead vocal in the song Luigi & The Wise Guys. What can be for certain, though, is that this album would be the last slightly above average Zappa album (excluding LSO and Perfect Stranger) until Meets the Mothers of Prevention.The album opens with the chant of, "chop a line now" followed by some wisps of harmonica and some biting Zappa lyrics targetting the cocaine addicts in the workplace (like lawyers, doctors, etc). It's probably the most significant of all of Zappa's anti-drug pieces. Fun piece and one of the best on the album with some great backing vocals (which are wordless but give the song a humorous feel). SEX follows up Cocaine Decisions with some racous and raunchy lyrics and rollicking arena rock. Although this style of song was used on You Are What You Is, it's has a definite catchy feel that I like. Tink Walks Amok is an instrumental that has an 11/8 main theme and some great bass riffing from Scott Thunes as well as some fantastic drumming from Chad Wackerman. It's the first of three great instrumentals on the album. The Radio is Broken has some classic vocal stylings from Roy Estrada and some silly vocals from Zappa as well. Add is some zany Zappa soloing and some nice piano from Tommy Mars and you have this ridiculous piece, that despite the fun parts is a bit disappointing. We Are Not Alone is the second instrumental of the album. It has some nice saxophone from Bobby Martin as well as some great guitar work from Zappa and Steve Vai, as well as some nice call and respond play between the vibes and the guitars. The Dangerous Kitchen and later The Jazz Discharge Party Hats, is a vocal led tune with some manic instrumentation behind it. The only problem with this song is Zappa's vocals which are too out of place for a song like and this and he tries to hard to be funny at times. The Man from Utopia Meets Mary Lou is a "medley" piece as the album describes it to be, and it's actually a fun piece. It brings memories of the song Dong Work for Yuda on Joe's Garage mainly in the vocal approach, and since that song was amazing, this song is good, but not as great as Dong Work For Yuda. Stick Together and The Jazz Discharge Party Hats are probably my least favorite pieces on the album. The first is an anti-Union piece that is Zappa at his most sniping, and the latter is essentially a continuation of the Dangerous Kitchen type song that is just preposterous and not very interesting at all. Luigi and the Wise Guys is an a capella piece with Roy Estrada getting one last moment in the spotlight with his signature Pachuco vocals with the rest of the group providing a solid backing vocal foundation. It's not the best song, but it's one of the only Zappa songs in this style. Moggio ends the album with a percussive beat that is really superb and the overall feel of the song is perfect and the musicianship is excellent.In the end, while not even remotely close to the best Zappa album this isn't a bad effort. I like about half the songs on the album and I'm a bit disappointed with the rest, but that half fares particularly well when put up against his later works like Thing-Fish and Francesco Zappa. If you want 80s Zappa, this may be one of the albums you'll want to go to. Most people don't like this album all that much, but I think it is a solid album.
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Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Frank Zappa - Freak Out - 320 CBR

Frank Zappa's extraordinary 60+album output is, in essence, one single thematically related piece of music. True Zappaphiles (of which I am one) appreciate all aspects of this remarkable lifetime achievement, but the point of reviews like this are to point out the salient characteristics of individual albums.
Released in 1966, Freak Out! presented itself as the annunciation of a cultural revolution. Much like the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks (1977), this was pop music as threat. But its scope goes far beyond this. The album begins with the proto-punk anthem, "Hungry Freaks, Daddy," a raw, blistering electric rave-up that works as well as "Anarchy in the U.K.," and stands up just as well. If this was all that remained of Freak Out!, it would still be a classic, but the album goes much deeper. Zappa works dilligently on perfectly realized pop songs built on cliche's, contrasting them with "reality songs" like "Motherly Love" (a brutal rocker that appeals for groupies to have sex with the band members), "You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here" (a savage attack on the shallowness of the youth culture likely to consume the album), and most importantly, the strange, enigmatic "Who Are the Brain Police?" (in which people and objects are unreal, manufactured, interchangeable and subject to melting). The overly arranged love songs sit side by side with material that deconstructs them as false representations (particularly the '50s doo-wop parody "Go Cry on Somebody Else's Shoulder."
I'll never complain about 2 LPs on one CD, but the breakup of the two sections does hurt the psychological impact of the album somewhat. Keep in mind that Side 3 of the LP was where Freak Out! began moving the listener into deeper territory, throwing more light upon what had already occured. The sprawling, grungy blues of "More Trouble Every Day" kicks this off, with a savage, biting report of the Watts riots and the media coverage in a racially and economically divided America that has not changed much. Here, we're a million miles from the pop gleen of "Wowie Zowie" and "How Could I Be Such a Fool?" The next step takes us where no "popular" artist had dared step before.
"Help, I'm a Rock" is musical event in stasis, relieved by shock. Everything the album has been so far has mutated into a new form, an "abstract" pop where representations become more difficult to pin down. The "freak" threat now arises full-blown: but what is it? (These are not hippies, friends--but they are the dissafected, the "left behinds" who are rising up to claim a stake in the American dream--and they will transform it in a new image.) An atonal barbershop quartet taunts, "You're safe, mama. You're safe, baby." (Meaning of course, quite the opposite.)
Did Zappa believe this was actually going to happen? Possibly in 1966 he did, but not much longer. The message of Freak Out! is much larger than that--it amounts to nothing less than a demand for complete social/sexual/aesthetic emancipation. His conclusion lies in the side-long epic, "The Return of the Son of the Monster Magnet" Often castigated/dismissed as chaotic noise, close listening will reveal a very controlled hand at work. This is the soundtrack of the awakening of a new individual sensibility. Section 1 ("Ritual Dance of the Child-Killer") is a destruction of the innocence that allows people to accept a prefabricated reality (the "Brain Police"), while the avant-garde Section 2 ("Nullis Prettii") translates "No Commercial Potential," a slogan Zappa wore as his badge of honor.
Now or in 1966, this album is an audacious, vital masterpiece by one of the greatest artists of the century. (And did I forget to mention it's melodic, catchy and funny, too?)For the uninitiated, or the underinitiated, this is the perfect place to start what could be a lifelong dialectic with the most challenging, exciting and rewarding musicians/composers you will ever encounter.
The present-day composer refuses to die! Long live Frank Zappa.
You'll find the links in the comments.

Frank Zappa - Roxy And Elsewhere - 320 CBR

This is Zappa at his musically most adventurous- from one of his most creatively fertile periods; the early 70s, where he produced great records like 'Overnite Sensation' and 'Apostrophe', which whilst being more accessible, the music hadn't suffered, and was probably more complex than his previous work in the 60s. This is probably his best live record, and one of the best live albums of the era. 'Penguin In Bondage' is Zappa in innuendo stance, something he would return to even more in later years (and even more explicitly) but the musicianship is quite outstanding, and would confirm why this period of The Mothers was widely regarded as the best musically, this particular line up housing many musicians who went on to other high profile careers, notably George Duke who has popped up in many a jazz fusion project, and Chester Thompson, who as everybody knows joined Genesis to play live with them, but had already joined Weather Report by the time this album came out. There are other Zappa favourites like Napoleon Murphy Brock, Don Preston, Ruth Underwood and Jeff Simmons (who actually released an album on Bizarre Records when that was up and running called 'Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up'), but the whole band play superbly, and Zappa gets a mindblowing guitar solo. This track leads into a funk/ jazz rock number 'Pygmy Twylyte' which is similar in tone to the songs on 'Overnite Sensation' with a hyper fiddly lead vocal part and should be complex enough to satisfy prog fans. 'Dummy Up' is one of Zappa's schtick routines and involves members of the band smoking 'collage diplomas' and a 'sock'. Whilst musically not very innovative, it does sum up the atmosphere of the Zappa concert fairly well, even if I don't care for these routines myself. The next song is another goodie- 'Village Of The Sun'- with some nice vocals and some relatively restrained musicianship for this album, and this track segues into 'Echidina's Arf (Of You) which is a frankly stupendous instrumental, with some nice brass work and typically ideosyncratic time changes, which is carried over into the next song, 'Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?' which is a showcase for musical dexterity and an apparently 'suggestive dance' from Ruth Underwood... 'Cheepnis' is one of Zappa's best songs of the era, and is about monster movies- as the man explains himself in a very funny anecdotal story about 'true cheapness' in films. I like most of this song, especially the part about the 'power point' which is superbly accurate in depicting the ridiculousness of such films...The music is as sharp as the lyrical content throughout. My personal favourite part of the record is Zappa's reinterpretation of three of my favourite early Zappa songs- 'Oh No'/'The Orange County Lumber Truck' is revamped as 'Son Of Orange County' and 'Trouble Every Day' as 'More Trouble Every Day'. All are completely revamped, and quite superbly. 'Son Of Orange County' has a completely slowed down rendition of 'Oh No', with scorching guitar work from Zappa, and 'The Orange County Lumber Truck' is given a brassier treatment than the original version. But the rendition of 'Trouble Every Day' never fails to amaze me, particularly the double drum part played by Chester Thompson and Ralph Humphrey, used again by Genesis when they played 'Afterglow' live when Chester Thompson joined them. The vocals are superb too, and you only wish there were more revamps on this record to the standard of these ones, and not so much of 'Be Bop Tango' which takes up 16 minutes; for me, more than half that would have sufficed... Yet, this is Frank Zappa, and there are all kinds of Zappa on here- rock Zappa, jazz Zappa, jokey Zappa, satirical Zappa and infuriating Zappa, making it an excellent introduction into his highly unique musical universe.
Yet again, links are in the comments.

Frank Zappa - Trance-Fusion - 320CBR

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.
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Frank Zappa - Sheik Yerbouti - 320 CBR

There are so many things to love about Frank Zappa. Musically, he's extremely complex. He makes a lot of material by other bands appear really simple. That's not to say they're bad, but Zappa is a true visionary when it comes to musical complexity. I also love his use of satirical comedy in his lyrics. If I were to try to get deeply into that, it would be too complicated, so, I'll let you figure out what his lyrics mean to you. But as an explanatory to them, they're quite funny. This is one of Zappa's best works, and that's really saying something. Although I've seen the price for this one sometimes high, it's well worth it. "Sheik Yerbouti" has got something for everybody. "Rat Tomango" is a five-minute plus guitar solo with a good drum backbeat. For all guitarists and guitar enthusiasts, this is a must-own! Then, there are sing-a-long tunes that would make great pop singles, such as "I'm So Cute", a great, rapid song sung by Terry Bozzio with some rockin' guitar work, and "Tryin' To Grow A Chin", which opens with some unbelievably fast marimba work, features hilarious lyrics, and even features a rock musical sort of sing-a-long at the end! That certainly makes this album something to listen to. Also, you got "Whatever Happened To All The Fun In the World" and "Wait a Minute", a couple of 30-second clips, (featuring some use of instruments), that seem like the types of things I'd record on my cellphone. A lot of the songs on here also seem to be prime examples of Zappa in the progressive-rock subgenre. A good deal of songs, especially on the first half of the album, all rock pretty hard and assure you're in for a ball! And believe me, I would know. Probably the best way I personally enjoy this album is to sit in my room late at night on Friday and Saturday nights and just let this thing play out. And for being an eager, teenage musician, that's a great way to end a Friday night. The only problem on this album is that some of the drumwork isn't as audible as some other instruments. The only other thing that kinda gets to me is that all the songs flow into each other, which means you need to keep a bird's eye view on the time on your CD player. However, this album is a leviathan of fun and here are some of its best tracks, which also mean some of Zappa's best works: "Broken Hearts Are For ***Holes": Hilarious lyrics that perfectly accompany the hard-rockin' sound of the music. You even get a bit of proto-80's synthesizer on this one! How cool. "I'm So Cute": More great lyrics that fit the fast pace and Bozzio's voice. However, it gets a little repetitive at the end. "Rat Tomango": Like I've already stated, this is an outstanding guitar solo that you just need to listen to. "Bobby Brown Goes Down": A lot of people are probably aware about this song. In its day, and still today, the lyrics are considered very raunchy and explicit, due to Zappa's awareness of the mentality of our culture at the time, but it's still really funny. Ironically, this is set to a tempo of a song you'd slow dance to. "Rubber Shirt": One heck of a bass solo. "The Sheik Yerbouti Tango": Another great guitar solo, even if it's a little shorter than "Rat Tomango". "Baby Snakes": It's less than two minutes, but it's got something for everybody and really shines. "Tryin' To Grow A Chin": Like I said a little before, this would make for a great pop single. The musical-like sing-a-long towards the end is one of the greatest moments on the entire album! "Dancin' fool": Another really fun and rhythmically complex song that adds lighthearted satire to the culture at the time. "Jewish Princess": Again, really explicit lyrics that you can't help but laugh to. Shows you that the second side of this disc is just as good as the first. "City of Tiny Lites": A great reason to listen to this one late at night. Easily a great Zappa-styled arena-rocker. "Yo' Mama": Very long, at twelve and a half minutes. This is probably the only one where I don't particulary care for the lyrics, and the melody makes this one sound sad. However, the middle is good and I love at the end how he says each of his bandmates' names. Overall: If you want to get into Zappa, you NEED to own this! A whole lot of fun to listen to, a whole lot to keep a musician impressed and satisfied, and, of course, your and my soundtrack to a late Friday night. I really hope you enjoy this one, 'cause it's one great work of Zappa's art!
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